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Guest Opinion: Spokane cannot afford the City Council’s energy mandate

In October 2017, a group of activists formed a work group to draft a proposal mandating that the city of Spokane source 100 percent of our energy from renewables by 2030.

On Monday, the Spokane City Council plans to rush its proposal into law.

The proposed ordinance states that action is required by individuals, families, neighborhoods, the community, local government and others. However, the public it cites was never invited to participate in the backroom process. It’s absolutely critical that policy changes this substantial be cultivated with the participation of the public and our elected officials in an open meeting setting – especially when 350.org, the national organization behind this effort, concedes that it is “not experts” on these issues.

Furthermore, the commission that this proposed ordinance creates to oversee the new regulations has been designed to include only a very narrow field of opinions. A topic this big necessitates many perspectives and backgrounds.

The steps already being taken by the city administration demonstrates why this proposal is simply unnecessary.

According to the “10 step implementation plan” released by the city, “good progress” has been made in four of 10 areas of focus including: “sustainable, integrated, resilient infrastructure; clean air; solid waste, zero waste; and environmentally friendly purchasing policies.” Additionally, “some progress” has been made in four areas: “wise land stewardship; save water; right-sized transportation; and energy security.” Clearly, there is additional work to be done, but this is where the city should maintain its efforts – leading by example in a fiscally responsible manner to make our community more energy efficient.

Implementing a broad and new regulatory scheme prior to this work even being completed would be imprudent.

The City Council has yet to conduct a financial impact statement as required by their rules. However, back-of-the-envelope estimates from some city officials indicate that the cost to the city budget could be over $20 million dollars. This doesn’t begin to account for the costs to the private sector, struggling working class families, and new transplants trying to put down roots in our community.

The investments required for compliance by our local utility would be considerable, and those costs will be passed along to ratepayers – families and employers. We are confident that if the city or a third party conducts a cost analysis, the public will be horrified at the results.

This is simply a misguided proposal that outlaws emissions-free nuclear power, creates confusion around the legality of hydroelectric power – perhaps our region’s greatest asset – and it puts Spokane’s Waste-to-Energy plant in a precarious position by outlawing the burning of a substantial portion of the materials that flow through the facility.

It’s important to understand that when voters approved Initiative 937 back in 2006, Washington’s energy utilities were given 14 years to incorporate the 15 percent renewable energy mandate into their portfolios. This proposal, which is limited to the city of Spokane and all rate payers living and working in the city, would give our local utilities just over 10 years to reach 100 percent renewable status.

This new policy substantially threatens our competitiveness. Employers looking to relocate or expand their operations beyond the greater Seattle or Portland areas are seeking smarter, more reasonable regulations, not more burdensome policies. One of the advantages our community has over the Interstate 5 corridor is our relatively low cost of living, but these increased energy rates threaten that advantage. This will negatively impact every sector of our economy including housing, where Spokane already faces a crisis.

Lastly, there are many questions surrounding the technical feasibility of modifying the power grid to actually implement these policies. According to the Everett Daily Herald, this is an issue plaguing the city of Edmonds, Washington, which approved a similar plan. It’s also unclear what the consequences will be if our utility companies can’t make this workable.

This policy is misguided and unworkable. It was not developed through a public process, but by a group of activists. The resulting financial stress it will place on everyone living, working, and operating a business in Spokane will be substantial. The policy ignores the sizable impacts on the city budget and the real-world logistics of implementing such a plan.

Spokane deserves better.

Michael Cathcart is the executive director of Better Spokane, a pro-business nonprofit and political action organization.


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