OLYMPIA – Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, who is seeking a path to the White House on the message of climate change, signed a measure Tuesday that makes his state the fourth in the nation that has established a mandate to provide carbon-free electricity by a targeted date.
The measure was among several environmental bills that Inslee signed at a park in Seattle, surrounded by climate advocates and others.
The signing of the new state law comes less than a week after Inslee unveiled his first major policy proposal of his presidential campaign, in which he called for the nation’s entire electrical grid and all new vehicles and buildings to be carbon pollution free by 2030.
“We are determined to build a solar and wind and electrical system where people can access clean energy and cleaner air to breathe for our kids as long as Washington state is here,” he said. “That’s a multigenerational commitment.”
Washington now joins California, Hawaii, and New Mexico, which have all established either renewable energy mandates or clean energy mandates with the 2045 target. Washington, D.C., passed a bill last year establishing a 2032 date for a 100% renewable energy mandate, and Puerto Rico this year established a 100% renewable energy mandate by 2050, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Megan Cleveland, an energy policy specialist at NCSL, said that the difference between a renewable energy mandate and a clean energy mandate is what resource portfolio the law requires.
In a renewable energy mandate, all the electricity sold in the state must come from renewable energy sources like wind, solar, geothermal and hydropower. Hawaii, Puerto Rico and Washington, D.C., all fall in this category.
A 100% clean energy mandate – like the measures passed in California, New Mexico and Washington – requires all electricity to come from carbon-free sources, which include renewable energy, but also other resources, such as nuclear energy.
“Clean energy mandates are less prescriptive than renewable portfolio standards, leaving room for other carbon-free energy resources to be included,” Cleveland said in an email.
NCSL said that there are at least six states considering legislation to establish 100% renewable or clean energy mandates or goals: Minnesota, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Colorado, Illinois and New York.
Washington, which relies heavily on hydroelectric power, already generates more than 75% of its electricity from carbon-free sources, including renewable energy. The measure would require utilities to eliminate coal as an energy source by the end of 2025 as the first step toward a goal to provide carbon-free electricity by 2045.
Existing hydroelectric power would count toward the goal, giving the state about 25 years to find carbon-free sources for the remaining 25% of its electricity needs.
The penalty for noncompliance would be $100 for each megawatt-hour, but it could go higher depending on the type of source, with coal penalties the highest.
Republicans opposed the measure as it advanced through the Legislature, saying it would raise electricity costs without impacting global climate.
“This bill’s going to raise the cost of energy and it will do absolutely nothing to improve the environment in our state or in the world,” said Sen. Curtis King, a Yakima Republican, during floor debate in the Senate in March, the same day that Inslee announced his presidential campaign.
Inslee signed several other bills Tuesday that were part of his legislative agenda this year, including a measure that seeks to make large commercial buildings more energy efficient.
Another establishes new minimum efficiency and testing standards for certain appliances, including portable air conditioners, showerheads and water coolers. In order to be sold in the state, several of the appliances covered under the law, including computers and computer monitors, must meet the state’s efficiency standards if they’re manufactured during or after 2021.
Inslee also signed a measure Tuesday that restores a sales tax break for electric vehicles that expired last year.
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