January 17, 2014 in City

Bill seeks green status for Spokane Waste-to-Energy Plant

Environmentalists oppose move, saying facility’s product not always clean
By The Spokesman-Review
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Background and the latest updates

OLYMPIA – Electricity from the West Plains garbage incinerator would be classified as a renewable energy and be more valuable to an electric utility if a bill proposed by state Sen. Mike Baumgartner is approved.

Spokane’s Waste-to-Energy Plant should be designated as a renewable resource, Baumgartner, R-Spokane, told the Senate Energy Committee Thursday: “As long as people make garbage, it’s renewable.”

But does it fit under Initiative 937, which voters approved in 2006 to boost the state’s supply of renewable energy, wondered Sen. Marilyn Chase, D-Shoreline. I-937 was designed to encourage new facilities, and the plant opened in 1991.

“I don’t dispute that it’s a wonderful facility, but it’s an existing facility,” she said.

Other established facilities have been given status as renewable energy by the Legislature, including a Kettle Falls facility that burns wood waste, Baumgartner said. Extending that status to the Waste-to-Energy Plant is a major issue for the city of Spokane, which owns the incinerator and sells its electricity. The power would become more valuable to utilities that must increase the amount of renewable energy they have in 2016.

The Spokane City Council is considering a resolution supporting the change, and Mayor David Condon was scheduled to testify in support of SB 6028, but his plane from Spokane to Seattle was diverted because of bad weather.

The committee heard from several representatives of environmental groups who called it a bad idea. Suellen Mele of Zero Waste Washington said some trash is made from plastic, which comes from petroleum, and that’s not renewable. It’s not always clean energy, either, she said, because the smoke and the ash can contain dioxins and other dangerous chemicals.

Committee Chairman Doug Ericksen, R-Ferndale, delayed a vote on the bill to try to work out a compromise agreeable to both parties, which might give Spokane city officials a chance to testify at a future hearing.

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