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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

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Washington Policy Center: Voters should be able to make choices on energy, like natural gas

By Chris Corry</p><p>

Just shy of 65% of customers are struggling to pay their monthly energy bills, according to the Washington State Department of Commerce. Natural gas is a cost-effective heating solution, heating homes at about one-third the cost of electric heating.

Yet recent legislation was passed in an effort to phase out natural gas with restrictions on new and existing customers, and still other proposals have called for the outright ban on natural gas in Washington state.

For many Washingtonians, the switch from natural gas to electricity will mean a significant increase in their monthly energy bills. What happens to those already struggling with their monthly energy bills when those prices go significantly higher? It’s a rhetorical question, or at least it should be.

To make matters worse, added costs may not end with an increase in their monthly bills. The switch from natural gas may also mean a costly conversion of homes to electric heating and cooking. According to the Building Industry Association of Washington, the cost of such a conversion could be anywhere from $40,000 to $50,000.

Can you imagine what such an expense would do to a family struggling to get by?

Washington’s aggressive climate goals drive the reasoning behind this. Proponents argue that natural gas use must be eliminated if we are to achieve our net zero goals.

Washington has set several climate and environmental metrics and has a history of failing to achieve them. One might think such a record would humble our approach before embarking on an extremely costly and invasive approach toward an affordable home heating and cooking method, but one would be wrong.

Furthermore, the elimination of natural gas would not only affect households but also pose a significant threat to businesses in Washington. Ask a restaurant owner if they like the idea of opening their business without the ability to use natural gas and they’ll likely make clear the challenges ahead. Industries like hospitality, manufacturing and food production would face substantial challenges in maintaining their services which could lead to job losses, economic downturns and a rise in the cost of consumer goods.

With such dramatic implications for all Washingtonians, it is important that these decisions have broad support across our state.

Opponents of this legislation and proposals by the Washington Building Code Council have created Initiative 2066

  • Opponents argue that protecting energy choices is important for our state and are gathering signatures for the November ballot.

If passed, I-2066 would stop Washington from limiting natural gas service. This would include homes and businesses. It would keep natural gas as an option for home heating and cooking. Another element of the initiative would be to limit local government and state agencies’ ability to restrict, ban or limit natural gas or appliances in homes or businesses.

I-2066 would require utilities that currently provide natural gas to continue to provide it for customers who want to continue using gas moving forward. This would include in new construction.

The measure helps protect people from being forced to convert to electric only, saving them tens of thousands in costly upgrades. Washingtonians are already struggling to pay energy costs, and most won’t be able to afford such a dramatic expense to continue to live in their homes. This would also ensure renters do not have to pay dramatic increases due to buildings being forced to change out infrastructure and appliances.

Lastly, proponents of I-2066 note that natural gas is a good source of energy generation, especially in times of strain on the electric grid. This would ensure utilities have the option to continue using natural gas as needed to avoid systemwide blackouts.

The initiative proposal does not force Washingtonians to use natural gas or appliances. It also does not remove utilities’ ability to provide energy incentives and rebates for converting to electric heating or cooking. The state has a variety of methods and options to reduce climate change, and this initiative does not restrict those.

Washingtonians will have the final say in November if the initiative receives the needed signatures. Given the struggle people are having with inflation, fuel and housing prices, and the rise in the cost of food staples, it is only fitting that those most impacted would decide such a dramatic change in energy policy with such steep financial consequences.

Chris Corry is the Eastern Washington director for the Washington Policy Center and lives with his wife and children in Yakima.