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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Opinion >  Guest Opinion

Prof. Brian G. Henning, Ph.D.: Clean electricity is affordable, reliable, and urgently needed

Prof. Brian G. Henning

It’s hard not to become numb to the cascade of storms, wildfires and floods engulfing and pummeling communities across our region and the world. We’re becoming accustomed to “500-year events” occurring almost annually. Last year alone these disasters cost U.S. taxpayers over $91 billion and 247 Americans their lives.

Soon, our children won’t even realize that once upon a time it wasn’t “normal” in Spokane to avoid planning outdoor events in August, our new fifth season of toxic smoke-filled air. According to the best science, these record-setting wildfires, floods and hurricanes are the result of only a 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit (1 degree Celsius) change in the planet’s temperature. Scientists’ best estimate is that we could possibly withstand up to 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit (2 degreesCelsius). Beyond that, the consequences would be catastrophic, far worse than anything we’re seeing now. And, at the rate we’re polluting, we’ll pass that threshold in a little more than 17 years.

With the acrimony in national politics, it’s easy to lose hope that our country and species will rise to the challenge. But where we see dysfunction nationally we see glimmers of hope at state and local levels. Already, 114 cities, including Spokane, have pledged to pursue 100 percent clean, renewable energy. Exciting efforts are also underway at the state level. In Olympia legislators are considering a bill (SB 5116) that would make the Evergreen State the third in the country to commit to acquiring 100 percent of its electricity from clean, renewable sources by 2045.

The Clean Electricity bill is no symbolic gesture. It would phase coal out of our electricity grid by 2025, accelerating closure of inefficient coal-fired power plants in Montana and Wyoming that are among the nation’s worst polluters. Near-term emission reduction targets would assure an orderly transition to a clean electric grid and prevent construction of fracked gas power plants that would pollute for decades to come. It will invest in low-income communities in Spokane and all over Washington to address historic energy inequities. And it would invest in clean, renewable energy like the nearby Lind Solar Farm that will add more jobs to the state’s clean energy economy, which already employs more than 78,000 Washingtonians. 6,300 of them live and work right here in and around Spokane. Washington doesn’t have much coal, oil or gas, but it has lots of water, wind and sun.

Recent polling shows that more than two-thirds of Washington voters support climate action, giving the bill broad and deep support across the state. However, as the March 26 op-ed by 9th Legislative District Sen. Mark Schoesler demonstrates, some elected officials haven’t caught up with their constituents on the urgency of the climate crisis. Sen. Schoesler offers the talking points of utilities that try to scare us with threats of skyrocketing rate increases. But the truth is that the bill incorporates a carefully crafted cost cap which guarantees that transition costs can’t exceed 2 percent annually. Though an important insurance policy, the cost cap will rarely if ever come into play because the cost of solar and wind energy is already less than that of the fossil fuels they would replace. Ratepayers will save and we will all benefit from cleaner air and a more stable climate.

Sen. Schoesler also repeats the common warning that we can’t shift to clean energy because the sun doesn’t always shine and the wind doesn’t always blow. Tell that to Idaho Power, which just this month announced it will shift to zero-emission electricity by 2045. The fact is that modern grid management, energy efficiency and energy storage technologies are already adequate to complement renewable resources and ensure that the lights will go on whether or not the sun is shining and the wind is blowing.

Over the next couple of weeks, the Clean Electricity bill (SB 5116 / HB 1211) will come up for crucial votes in the state House of Representatives and the Senate. Please reach out to your representatives and senators and ask them to vote YES.

Dr. Brian G. Henning is Chair of the Environmental Studies Department at Gonzaga University

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