Washington powers a new path toward clean energy future

Historic package of climate legislation promotes healthy communities, family-sustaining jobs and clean energy for all

Gov. Jay Inslee signed an unprecedented suite of clean energy legislation into law today, ushering in aggressive timelines for decarbonizing Washington’s economy and transforming the state’s energy landscape. Hundreds of supporters rallied in celebration of the policies that are designed to reduce carbon emissions, create jobs, improve health outcomes, and ensure all workers and vulnerable communities benefit from these changes.

Together, these measures represent the greatest step Washington has ever taken toward reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Gov. Jay Inslee speaks to a packed crowd in a Seattle neighborhood on Tuesday right before he signed a suite of unprecedented clean energy bills. (Office of the Governor photo)

Inslee, who co-founded the U.S. Climate Alliance after President Trump declared his intent to remove the United States from the Paris climate accord in 2017, has vocalized the need for climate action at all levels of government around the world.

“This means we can have a fighting chance at saving the things we cherish most — our land, our air, our water and our children’s health,” Inslee said. “We aren’t done. Our success this year is just a harbinger of successes to come. But we’re ready. We can do this.”

This clean energy legislation builds upon other several other of the governor’s climate change efforts during his time in office. This includes the state’s first-ever clean energy fund, an aggressive electric vehicle initiative, encouraging wind and solar development across Washington and transforming state government operations to consume cleaner energy.

Scientists and world leaders predict that without significant reductions in carbon emissions in the next decade, global temperatures will increase 2.7 degrees within the next 20 years. This could cause severe disruptions in weather patterns, public health, national security and more.

The crowd turns to cameras after they heard from the governor, legislators and a high school student about climate change and clean energy. Gov. Jay Inslee donned a “100%” ball cap near the end of the signing to represent his 100 percent clean energy bill. (Photo courtesy of Legislative Support Services)

Gina McCarthy, former administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency under President Obama, said Washington is making its mark in the climate change battle.

“With the federal government in disarray on climate change, it is inspiring to see states like Washington taking the lead,” McCarthy said. “These bills confront carbon pollution across the economy, with major health and economic benefits, pointing the way to a clean energy future.”

Sen. Reuven Carlyle, primary sponsor of the 100 percent clean energy bill, said the entire bill package puts Washington on the right path.

“We’re taking a bold step into the 22nd century by marching toward a 100 percent clean, modern, interconnected energy system,” Carlyle said. “In Washington, clean energy isn’t an academic exercise — it’s a front-line, hands-on, powerful commitment to dramatic climate action. We’re committed to reaching Paris accord-level carbon reductions on behalf of the quality of life for our grandchildren’s grandchildren. I’m honored to be a partner with our governor in this profoundly important work.”

(Graphic courtesy of Office of Financial Management with emissions reductions data from Washington State Department of Ecology, and comparison data from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency)

Rhea Suh, president of Natural Resources Defense Council, said Washington is leading the way and providing a model for state action during a time of federal inaction.

“This year’s legislative successes show Washington is driving forward new ways to confront climate change,” Suh said. “Washington is deploying an array of solutions that prove there are unlimited opportunities to tangibly cut pollution in the face of continued inaction from the White House.”

Click below to access an official briefing document about the following bills:

Here’s a breakdown of the bills Inslee signed:

100 percent clean energy

This bill, called The Washington Clean Energy Transformation Act, radically reshapes utilities in Washington and is the nation’s strongest policy for transitioning to 100 percent clean electricity. With this legislation, Washington joins a growing list of states and U.S. territories that committed to 100 percent clean electricity by mid-century. This includes California, Hawaii, New Mexico and Puerto Rico. Washington’s bill stands out by creating the strongest milestones on the path to fossil-free electricity and provides tools that help fossil-fuel-dependent workers transition to clean energy.

The bill sets mandatory requirements for utilities in Washington to:

  • Phase out all coal power by 2025.
  • Achieve a carbon-neutral electricity supply by 2030.
  • Transition to a 100 percent clean electricity supply by 2045.
Legislators joins Gov. Jay Inslee for a photo before the bill signing takes place in a Seattle neighborhood. (Photo courtesy of Legislative Support Services)

Among the components of the bill is recognizing the central role of renewable hydropower as part of the clean energy economy transition. While hydropower remains an abundant and affordable source of energy for most utilities, the bill encourages innovation by helping utilities invest in projects that will reduce emissions in other sectors, such as infrastructure for customers who need to charge electric vehicles.

“With the federal government in disarray on climate change, it is inspiring to see states like Washington taking the lead. These bills confront carbon pollution across the economy, with major health and economic benefits, pointing the way to a clean energy future.”

— Gina McCarthy

The bill offers planning tools to help utilities implement the standards, while supplying customers with reliable and affordable electricity. It includes a cost cap so that utilities won’t be penalized if they can’t meet the mandatory deadlines because renewable energy technologies are not yet available or affordable.

The law also provides a model for making sure all communities benefit from clean energy transitions. This includes customers from low-income and vulnerable populations and communities that are highly impacted by pollution. These communities are typically dependent on fossil-fuel energy facilities for jobs, or at risk of utility rate increases. Under the new bill, energy developers qualify who follow strong workforce standards can qualify for incentives.

The clean energy bill is already generating good jobs news. Wilfrido Rincon, managing director of McKinley Paper Co. in Port Angeles, said the clean energy bill — combined with legislation also passed this session to extend timber incentives — has made it possible to re-open the Port Angeles Mill and create 120 new good-paying jobs. The mill plans to produce 100 percent recycled containerboard and includes a biomass electricity cogeneration facility. This type of facility cleanly burns surplus wood to create heat and steam that drives a turbine to generate electricity.

“We view both of these bills as key steps in creating a more stable and certain business environment that would support McKinley Paper’s efforts to complete its reconfiguration of its mill and resume its operations,” Rincon said. “This will continue our investment in the mill and our employees at its Port Angeles facility.”

Gov. Jay Inslee shakes House Speaker Frank Chopp’s hand during the clean energy bill signing. (Photo courtesy of Legislative Support Services)

Clean buildings

The Clean Buildings Act is a first-of-its-kind standard that will improve the energy performance of thousands of large buildings in Washington. Older buildings often leak heat or cooled air through old windows and under-insulated walls, and most rely on out-of-date lighting systems that consume more electricity and require more frequent replacement than current technologies. Meanwhile, the state’s economy and population has grown rapidly, along with the number of new homes and buildings.

As a result, buildings are among the fastest growing source of greenhouse gas emissions in Washington and account for 27 percent of the state’s total carbon pollution.

(Graphic courtesy of the Department of Commerce)

The new law provides an array of incentives and other voluntary programs — as well as carefully designed standards — to significantly cut building-related emissions by 2035. Many large commercial buildings owners will be eligible for new incentive program to help with upgrades. For this program, the state will partner with utilities to fund a portion of the energy retrofits that building owners undertake. These investments will help them comply with the standard that takes effect for most buildings in 2028, giving owners time to plan and design projects that will add value to their buildings while reducing their operating costs. The bill also creates new tools to help utilities increase efficiency and reduce Washington’s use of fossil gas to operate buildings. These include new conservation requirements and incentives to help customers shift to renewable natural gas.

Together, these components reduce emissions in the cheapest way possible: through a more efficient use of energy. The investment of state funds will deliver building owners and utility customers a positive financial return and create hundreds of jobs for contractors, engineers and electricians.

“This means we can have a fighting chance at saving the things we cherish most — our land, our air, our water and our children’s health. We aren’t done. Our success this year is just a harbinger of successes to come. But we’re ready. We can do this.”

— Gov. Jay Inslee

Jeffrey Hamlett, executive director at American Institute of Architects Washington Council said this new bill encourages innovate ways for architects to move forward with green design.

“Architects work every day to improve our built environment for everyone,” Hamlett said. “We’re on the front lines, designing spaces that not only meet human needs but contribute to solving global climate change. This bill is a critical step that helps us make the buildings of tomorrow a reality today. The architectural community is proud to have helped create an opportunity that will provide a healthier, more responsible future for all Washingtonians.”

Gov. Jay Inslee holds up the bill signing pen after he signs the final clean energy bill. (Photo courtesy of Legislative Services)

Energy efficient appliances

This bill, combined with the Clean Buildings Act, will help cut hundreds of thousands of tons of greenhouse gas emissions and sets energy efficiency standards for more than 17 product categories. Household appliances like dishwashers are an intensive energy source, making them a key piece of the emissions puzzle. The bill also lowers various home energy costs such as heating water to running a home computer. Washington consumers will save more than $2.4 billion by 2034 in lower energy bills. By 2025, the water efficiency requirements will help the state avoid losing more than 6.8 billion gallons of water annually — basically, what it takes to meet the annual needs of a city the size of Issaquah.

Washington is the first state to pass this law since the U.S. Climate Alliance, 23 states committed to helping the US achieve its commitments to the Paris climate accords, announced an initiative to support state action on appliance energy efficiency. While Washington is among the first to lead the way, this bill could majorly effect how industries manufacture products if states in the U.S. Climate Alliance — representing 50 percent of the U.S. population — follow.

Nancy Hirsh, executive director of the NW Energy Coalition, commended the legislature on this energy and consumer protection bill.

“Washington has been at the forefront in promoting energy efficiency policies that save residents energy and money — and it has continued that leadership by passing this bill,” Hirsh said. “Recently, we’ve seen the federal administration announce their intention to relax an array of energy efficiency requirements, which makes it all the more important for states to take the lead.”

Super-pollutants

This bill tackles the growing challenge of super-polluting hydrofluorocarbons, or HFCs, a class of chemicals that can be thousands of times more powerful as atmospheric warming agents than carbon dioxide. These chemicals are among the fastest growing sources of greenhouse gas emissions in the state and the world.

This new law makes Washington the second state in the country to put a comprehensive policy in place to address these emissions, and require manufacturers to choose climate-safe alternatives for new equipment. The Trump administration pulled back an identical federal rule that the Obama administration put forward and that the industry supported.

The crowd cheers and holds up a finger to signal that Washington is the number one leader for clean energy and climate change efforts in the nation. (Photo courtesy of Legislative Services)

Clean transportation

The transition to zero emission vehicles is a key aspect in Washington’s fight against climate change. Washington is already among the top states for consumer adoption of electric vehicles, and state is on track to meet the governor’s goal of 50,000 electric vehicles on Washington roads by 2020, but transportation remains the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions.

This bill helps accelerate Washington’s transition to clean, electric transportation, reducing not only carbon pollution but conventional air pollutants as well. The bill accomplishes three key things: One, it establishes a state incentive program to make new and used electric vehicles more accessible for consumers of varying incomes. Two, it helps utilities make large-scale investments in vehicle charging stations, other infrastructure, and rebates. And, three, it creates a new grant program to help transit agencies electrify their fleets. An electric vehicle car-sharing program for low-income and rural communities will extend the benefits of electric vehicles.

The governor also secured $140 million in funding for new and converted electric-hybrid ferries as part of a transportation budget he’ll sign later this month. Washington is launching a conversion of its ferry fleet — the largest in the nation — to electric-hybrid. Currently, the ferry fleet is a significant contributor of both greenhouse gases and diesel particulate matter, and electric-hybrid ferries will help to reduce these pollutants as well as fuel costs. The legislature authorized the building of one new electric-hybrid ferries and the conversion of two existing ferries to electric-hybrid, with $140.5 million of funding provided in the next biennium.

You can read about the governor’s initial clean energy proposal on his Medium site. You can also watch Inslee’s Clean Energy launch press conference from December 2018 on TVW.org.

Washington State Governor's Office

News and updates from Washington state Gov. Jay Inslee and his administration.

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News and updates from Gov. Jay Inslee and his administration.

Washington State Governor's Office

News and updates from Washington state Gov. Jay Inslee and his administration.