January 16, 2014 in Opinion

Editorial: Spokane’s waste-to-energy plant deserves green status

 

Spokane officials can probably relate to an old lament by Sesame Street’s Kermit the Frog: “It’s not easy being green.”

Try as they might over the last five years, city leaders have not sold the Washington Legislature on bills that would classify electricity generated by the city’s waste-to-energy plant as “renewable.”

A reclassification would add value to the plant’s maximum 26-megawatt output because of Initiative 937, which requires larger utilities to obtain 3 percent of their electricity from green sources. By 2020, the share must be 20 percent.

But the resources that qualify as renewable were defined narrowly, with the setting aside of hydropower as nonrenewable being the most egregious omission. Some changes have been made since I-937 was passed in 2006 – Avista’s Kettle Falls wood-burning plant now qualifies – but the state’s only municipal waste-to-energy plant still does not.

Sen. Michael Baumgartner is taking another run at the problem this session with SB 6028. The Senate Committee on Energy, Environment & Telecommunications is scheduled to hold a hearing on the bill this afternoon, with Mayor David Condon and Ken Gimpel, business manager for the regional solid waste system, expected to testify.

The Spokane City Council has unanimously included the reclassification among the city’s top three priorities for this session. Council member Steve Salvatori sought to underscore that support Monday with either a resolution or letter to legislators, with both efforts failing on 4-3 votes.

Council President Ben Stuckart says the rejections were procedural: Salvatori’s proposals did not appear on agendas available to the public prior to the meeting. Salvatori says that may have been a problem for resolutions, not letters, and adds that Baumgartner did not approach him about a resolution until Saturday.

Procedural or not, the council missed a chance to help its cause and to help Baumgartner, who is not getting much support so far from his Democratic brethren. There is no companion bill in the House of Representatives, and Rep. Marcus Riccelli says resistance to the change in the Democratic-controlled body would be fierce.

I-937 supporters do not want the measure diluted by expanding the definition of “renewable.” But garbage is generated every day and must be burned or hauled more than 100 miles for disposal. How green is that?

Sweden, among the greenest of nations, imports garbage for its generators.

Past arguments that the city did not recycle enough have been taken to the curb with the blue, single-stream bins that have boosted returns by more than 50 percent since their introduction in October 2012.

The city’s annual revenues from selling the waste-to-energy power come to about $6 million. It might be worth a 10 percent to 15 percent premium if labeled green.

Spokane has earned it.

To respond to this editorial online, go to www.spokesman.com and click on Opinion under the Topics menu.


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