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Guest opinion: Clean energy incentives keep spurring growth

Bennett Freeman

Seven years ago, Washington voters made the smart choice to invest in the state by supporting renewable energy. Washington voters passed Initiative 937, which created a clean energy standard. The law requires the state’s large electric utilities to incrementally increase their electricity from new renewable resources to 15 percent by 2020.

This choice has paid off. Washington has seen more than $8 billion worth of investment in the renewable energy industry. This has resulted in thousands of new construction and operations jobs in rural parts of the state. This in turn has created more than $85 million in property tax revenue that funds schools and fire departments, among the many benefits to local communities.

 But, there are those in the Legislature who would dismiss this success by weakening the voter-backed initiative in a way that removes smart incentives for companies to invest in renewable energy. Attempts to weaken the initiative by allowing existing resources, or even coal, to have a role are not consistent with the law’s goal to diversify our electricity supply with new, clean renewable resources and all reasonable energy efficiency.

 Failure to extend the renewable sales and use tax exemption would be another mistake that harms Washington’s renewable aspirations. Legislators need to stand up for renewable energy and resist attempts to weaken the standard which would slow economic development and risk jobs.

I work for an investment management company that specializes in sustainable and responsible investments. My firm, Calvert Investments, has more than $12 billion under management. This includes firms such as Google, Coca-Cola, AT&T and a range of companies based, or with significant operations in, Washington. We understand what companies look for when making investments.

Smart investors are cautious by nature. This is why ensuring Washington’s continued investment in, and development of, renewable energy is so important. Investment depends on stable, long-term policies. Any revision to I-937 sends the wrong message to investors who are considering putting money into the state.

Investment in renewable energy isn’t just a good deal for renewable companies and investors. It creates broad-based growth. A recent report commissioned by Calvert and two partners found that a majority of Fortune 100 companies have set a renewable energy commitment, a greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions reduction commitment, or both. This means the states that have policies in place to promote renewable energy, like Washington, stand to attract investments by these firms. It should not be surprising that Washington is home to companies that are leading in this space. Indeed, Microsoft has set an internal carbon price and is the third-largest renewable energy purchaser in the country. Starbucks has a commitment to purchase 100 percent of electricity for its company-owned stores by 2015. Indeed, the company is so committed to renewable energy that it joined a number of other non-wind companies like Johnson & Johnson and Sprint to support federal wind policy last year.

It shouldn’t be surprising that Washingtonians want more renewables. In fact, a poll from DHM Research found that, on average, Washingtonians favor doubling the amount of wind the state produces, and quadrupling the amount of solar energy used by the state.

Washington voters made the right choice seven years ago. I-937 is doing exactly what Washington voters wanted. Official utility reports show all 17 utilities covered under the law are meeting or exceeding their clean energy targets. And, Washington is benefiting from billions of investment dollars, local economic stimulus, new jobs, lower electric bills, healthier homes and cleaner air. The Legislature shouldn’t go behind Washingtonians’ backs to weaken this smart law.

Bennett Freeman is a senior vice president of Calvert Investment Management Inc.
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