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The following is presented as part of The Columbian’s Opinion content, which offers a point of view in order to provoke thought and debate of civic issues. Opinions represent the viewpoint of the author. Unsigned editorials represent the consensus opinion of The Columbian’s editorial board, which operates independently of the news department.

In Our View: House should follow Senate on clean energy

The Columbian
Published: March 6, 2019, 6:03am

Turning on a lamp or charging a smartphone is an afterthought for Washington residents. Thanks to abundant, clean, renewable hydropower, this region is blessed with relatively inexpensive electricity to power our homes and businesses.

But it is past time that we start putting more thought into such daily activities. Part of the reason for that is the threat posed by climate change; the damage caused by the burning of fossil fuels must be addressed before that damage becomes irreversible. But even for those who ignore science and suggest that human-caused climate change is a hoax, Washington has an opportunity to seize the economic and social benefits of a green economy built upon a stew of energy from hydro, wind, solar and nuclear sources.

The state Senate understands that, having passed Senate Bill 5116 last week to move Washington toward the future. By a vote of 28-19, lawmakers passed a measure to phase out carbon-emitting energy sources. By the end of 2025, utilities could no longer charge customers for electricity generated at coal-fired plants; by 2045, each utility would have to meet 100 percent of its retail electrical load from renewable sources.

Sen. Annette Cleveland, D-Vancouver, voted in favor of the measure, while local Republican senators Lynda Wilson and Ann Rivers were opposed. Sen. Reuven Carlyle, D-Seattle, prime sponsor of the bill, said: “It’s simply time to move past the era of carbon into the next generation with modern, 21st-century energy systems using integrated wind, hydro and solar power. I’m proud that this is the strongest 100 percent clean energy bill adopted in the nation.”

A companion bill in the House is in committee, and Gov. Jay Inslee would be certain to sign the legislation if it lands on his desk.

Moving toward 100 percent clean energy should not be viewed as an unachievable or excessively costly task. Instead, it appears within reach.

Clark Public Utilities in 2017 received 63 percent of its electricity from hydro sources and 6 percent from nuclear production. About 31 percent was derived from fossil-fuel sources natural gas and coal. That leaves the publicly-owned company with a heavier lift than others in the state, where a total of 68 percent of electricity comes from hydropower. But the goals are attainable, and they likely will have public support.

Washington voters in November rejected Initiative 1631, which would have established a carbon fee on big polluters. But evidence suggests that the rejection does not mean the public is opposed to developing clean energy. A poll released shortly after the election found that 64 percent of Washington voters support action to reduce climate pollution and two-thirds support 100 percent clean energy by 2045.

Initiative 1631 drew opposition, in part, because an unelected board would determine how revenue would be spent, but that does not mitigate our duty to pursue alternatives to fossil fuels.

Hydropower is not without its own flaws. There are reasonable concerns about the impact that dams have on salmon populations and, by extension, orcas in Puget Sound. But there are clear advantages to electricity created from one of the region’s most abundant resources rather than from coal extracted in other parts of the country.

The state House of Representatives should follow the lead of the Senate and send a renewable energy bill to the governor. Such action would demonstrate that Washington is preparing for the future instead of clinging to outdated energy sources.