February 27, 2014 in City

Renewable energy bid for Spokane incinerator dies in committee

By The Spokesman-Review
 

OLYMPIA – A proposal to make power from the West Plains garbage incinerator worth more money, one of the city of Spokane’s top legislative priorities, died a quiet death Wednesday in a Washington House committee.

The plan to reclassify power from the city’s Waste-to-Energy facility as renewable energy, which would make it more valuable to the region’s utilities, failed to come up for a vote in the House Technology and Economic Development Committee before a key deadline. Members of both parties said it is dead for the year.

Rep. Shelly Short of Addy, the ranking Republican on the committee, was disappointed but said there were some fundamental disagreements among committee members on whether burning garbage is “green.”

Chairman Jeff Morris, D-Mount Vernon, said he had questions about the proposal that the committee could not get answered, including some concerns about fixed costs being listed by Avista, the utility that buys the power from the city.

Although the Legislature has granted that designation to a few older facilities in recent years, Morris said he has reservations about “post-qualifying” older facilities as renewable energy on a piecemeal basis. The plant began operating in 1991, some 15 years before the passage of Initiative 937, which was designed to spur the development of new energy systems.

The committee also killed a bill that would have allowed some power from existing hydroelectric facilities to qualify as renewable energy.

The request to reclassify the incinerator can be revived next year as the committee takes a broader look at renewable energy and I-937, Short said. SB 6028, which passed the Senate 26-21 earlier this month, made it further than any of the city’s previous attempts, she added.

On Wednesday, Spokane City Councilwoman Candace Mumm tried to convince the committee the incinerator was, indeed, a green facility. It allowed the city to close a leaking landfill and is part of a system that has the Spokane area ahead of the statewide average for recycling, she said.

Ken Gimpel, business director for the Spokane Regional Solid Waste System, argued that if power generated by gas from landfills qualifies as renewable energy, power from the incinerator should, too. The incinerator produces 10 times as much power, and pollutes less.

But Sue Ellen Mele, of Zero Waste Washington, said garbage, while plentiful, is not really renewable. The plastics the incinerator burns are made from petroleum, which is not renewable, she said, and some toxics go into the ash or the emissions.

“It’s like landfilling into the air,” Mele said.

The city had an economic interest in the bill. Before I-937 passed, the power from the facility was listed as renewable, and the city received about $12 million a year from its sale, Gimpel said. After the initiative passed and it lost the designation, the city made about $6 million a year.

With an I-937 designation, the city could have negotiated new contracts with utilities seeking to raise the amount of renewable energy in their systems to comply with other parts of the initiative and the value of the power could have gone up by 50 percent.

The city would have used some of that extra money to create more renewable resources, Mumm said.


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