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New Spokane City Council casts first 4-3 votes

The new majority of the Spokane City Council flexed its muscles twice on Monday in the first 4-3 votes of the year.

Both votes rejected nonbinding efforts to back a state Senate bill designating energy produced at the city’s Waste-to-Energy Plant as renewable.

But council members who cast no votes say they generally support the legislation and were reacting to what they say was a rushed vote with no public notice.

The city has been pushing state officials for years to designate the energy produced at the incinerator as renewable. Energy labeled renewable can garner higher prices, and energy produced at the Waste-to-Energy Plant used to have the renewable classification. The proposal has been in the city’s official lobbying agenda the last few years, including the one that was unanimously approved by the council late last year.

The new 4-3 majority – council members Ben Stuckart, Candace Mumm, Jon Snyder and Amber Waldref – rejected a plea from Councilman Steve Salvatori to rush a vote on a nonbinding resolution supporting the Senate bill. The legislation, introduced by state Sen. Michael Baumgartner, R-Spokane, will get a hearing in Olympia on Thursday.

Because the City Council nonbinding resolution wasn’t introduced until today, it didn’t appear on the council’s agenda and needed five votes to be considered.

Idaho’s first big solar power plant readied

Here's a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) ― Idaho's first big solar energy project could begin construction soon, a bright spot for alternative energy developers that are wrangling with regulators and utilities over their future. Solar panels for the Grandview Solar PV I have been delivered to a 180-acre field leased from the J.R. Simplot Co. southeast of Boise. Mark Scher is the Albany, N.Y.-based energy developer who purchased the project more than a year ago from an Idaho group. He told The Associated Press construction could begin “within the next few weeks.” Scher has a contract with Idaho Power Co. to sell an average 10 megawatts of electricity and aims to begin operations in January. Idaho Power now buys only minimal solar electricity, from customers who feed power from their panels back into the grid. Click below for a full report from AP reporter John Miller.

Idaho energy tussle - utilities vs. wind developers - sends international ripples

Here's a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) ― A fight over rules governing Idaho alternative energy is sending out international shockwaves, with a Greek construction company now saying utilities' demands to get out of their contractual obligations to buy power from wind farms are a threat to its business. Athens-based Terna GKA said Wednesday that curtailment will negatively affect its efforts to finance its soon-to-be-completed 138-megawatt Mountain Air facility near Mountain Home. Idaho Power Co. seeks permission from Idaho regulators to shut off wind farms like Terna's when they can get power more cheaply from other sources. With the matter unresolved, lenders are wary their money is at risk. Already, Boise's Exergy Development Group has suspended $323 million worth of projects. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has been asked to intervene to protect wind companies from utilities' demands. Click below for a full report from AP reporter John Miller.

Renewables have rough ride in Idaho…

Despite high hopes, Idaho's renewable energy sector has had a rough ride, reports the Associated Press, with major projects that the state enthusiastically touted ending up mothballed or killed, from Hoku Corp.'s $400 million Pocatello solar polysilicon plant to Micron Technology's solar energy venture, Transform Solar. Click below for a full report from AP reporter John Miller.

Big PUC hearings next week to focus on future of renewables in Idaho

Big hearings at the Idaho Public Utilities Commission next week are expected to attract a crowd of lawyers, utility executives and environmentalists, the AP reports, as the PUC weighs how to set the course for Idaho's renewable energy industry for years to come. “These issues have been going on since 2005,” said Gene Fadness, PUC spokesman. Commissioners “are more than ready to have all the parties come to some sort of agreement.”

Among the points of dispute: How to set the price utilities must pay renewables developers for their power; whether utilities can refuse to buy power from alternative projects when relatively few people are using electricity; and who has the rights to lucrative environmental credits that accompany renewable energy projects - the utilities or the renewables developers. Click below for a full report from AP reporter John Miller.

Shaping a new Idaho Energy Plan…

As Idaho lawmakers work on the first major update to their groundbreaking 2007 state energy plan, draft recommendations would have them back off from pushing incentives for renewable energy development and drop energy efficiency and conservation from the “highest priority” to just a priority. Others are pushing lawmakers to increase the push for solar energy development and power from woody biomass in Idaho, to find new ways to help low-income people afford power, and to end Idaho's distinction as the only western state without a consumer advocate in its utility rate-setting process at the state Public Utilities Commission. You can read my full story here at spokesman.com; a joint legislative committee will hold public hearings this Wednesday and Thursday and is accepting public comments on the plan revisions through Friday.

Roundup…

Stuff’s moving quickly, so here’s a quick overview of recent developments, etc:

-The polling came back Friday on a proposed third-of-a-cent sales tax hike, and the numbers prompted an on-again, off-again Saturday, with groups and lawmakers weighing whether to press ahead with a public vote on the plan.

“We weren’t sure (the numbers) were strong enough to go forward,” said Cassie Sauer, who’s part of a coalition of health groups (hospitals, nursing homes, a nurses union, SEIU). She wouldn’t give out numbers, although she said that the number of people supporting a tax increase was higher than those opposed. And the numbers were “through the roof” as far as public disapproval of cuts to pediatric health, hospitals, nursing, etc. But many people are clearly very worried about the economy, she said.

So is the health coalition still willing to back a campaign to win public support for the temporary tax increase, which would add $1.1 billion over three years? “We’re thinking about it,” said Sauer.

-The Washington Policy Center’s Jason Mercier has posted two video clips, less than three weeks apart, in which a) Rep. Eric Pettigrew is praising the House budget as a responsible document and b) he says that the budget will result in people dying.

-David Goldstein, at horsesass.org, reports that momentum for an income tax on high earners is faltering: “`Next year,’ income tax advocates are being told. `Maybe next year.’ Yeah. Right.”

Goldstein argues that if ever there was a moment of opportunity for such a plan, it’s now. Not next year, when most House lawmakers will be running for re-election. Writes Goldstein:

By “next year,” of course, the powers that be mean “some other year,” which really means “never.”

-The Homeowners’ Bill of Rights has apparently died, for the third year in a row.

-With Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown and Sen. Chris Marr standing in the House wings Friday, there was some high drama Friday night involving SB 5840, which was intended to ease some of the renewable-power rules for power companies, easing the cost to ratepayers. Environmentalists say the bill largely guts Initiative 937, which set those standards.

In a rare alliance, environmentalist House Democrats joined Republicans to pass an amendment that seems likely to kill the bill: declaring all hydropower renewable, which would largely render I-937 meaningless. From the Olympian’s Brad Shannon:

“We put a poison pill in it,” said Rep. Zack Hudgins, D-Tukwila, who voted for the amendment and then voted against the final bill.

TVW’s Niki Sullivan adds this: “It might be working: The Senate rejected the House’s amendments yesterday. It now heads to a conference committee.”

-The Seattle Times’ Jennifer Sullivan has an update on a proposal to privatize some child-welfare services. (The short form: it’s now a pilot project instead of the original sweeping reform.)

-Publicola’s Josh Feit has the blow-by-blow in the continuing tussle between education advocates over whether a bill redefining basic education. And here’s a long statement from House education chairwoman Rosemary McAuliffe, who calls the struggle over HB 2261 “one of the most difficult and bittersweet weeks in my time in our Legislature.”

-Lawmakers have agreed to defer $430 million in state pension payments.

-Lastly: lawmakers have, in fact, banned novelty lighters (those that could be mistaken for a toy or that have flashing lights) out of concern that they attract children who end up starting fires with them.