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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

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Kara Odegard: A state with a plan, not a ban

By Kara Odegard</p><p>

My mom grew up in Glenrose, and she tells this story of her brothers waking up on winter mornings with black soot around their nostrils. Her brothers slept in the basement a few feet from the coal furnace, which emitted soot particles that my uncles would breathe in during the night. Thirty-some years later, my sister and I would sleep in that same basement when visiting my grandparents, but we did not wake up with soot on our faces. My grandparents had updated to an electric furnace.

When working as a Realtor during the 2000s, I saw firsthand the challenges people had in decommissioning their outdated and dirty oil furnaces. Most homes had already converted to gas heat, but there were the odd few that still used oil. The basements in those homes smelled like a gas station, and it was not uncommon for those furnaces to leak oil that would be absorbed into the foundation of the home.

Why am I telling you these stories? Because it’s important to remember that progress is a human experience. We are constantly evolving and adapting. I imagine people who grew up with coal or oil heating celebrated the transition to cleaner heating systems.

Today we are in another transition moving from gas to cleaner, more efficient heating technologies. But as with many challenges in our country today, we have polarized heating into a left and right issue. Instead of opposing each other, why not collaborate on easing the transition to ensure affordability and reliability for everyone?

Supporters of I-2066 are positioning this initiative as protection of consumer choice, but consumers are not at risk of losing their choice under current regulations. The state of Washington is not banning natural gas, it is simply planning for the transition to electrification that we all know is coming.

As solar, wind and battery technologies continue to decrease in price, people are choosing to convert their gas appliances to electric. And in new construction, we are seeing similar trends. In 2023, Puget Sound Energy reported 5,000 new gas hookups compared to 10,000 in 2022 and even more the previous year.

Each time a gas customer leaves the system, the remaining customers are stuck paying for the stranded assets. Current state law requires utilities to plan for this transition to avoid stranding remaining gas customers with the costs. The transition to clean energy will not be stopped by I-2066, but I-2066 will hinder Washington’s ability to plan for an affordable transition.

There are valid questions about backup heat sources and the difficulty of electrifying some industries. We should engage in conversation on these topics. The good news is that battery technology is becoming more reliable and cheaper each year. And thanks to the Climate Commitment Act, Kaiser Aluminum in Spokane County received $4.8 million to support their energy transition as part of the state’s efforts to decarbonize hard-to-electrify industries.

Change can be hard, but I believe the health of our children and grandchildren are worth it.

Kara Odegard is the founding partner at Measure Meant, a Spokane-based company assisting businesses, cities and communities in achieving their climate and sustainability goals.