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Originally published March 10, 2009 at 4:01 PM | Page modified March 10, 2009 at 4:33 PM

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Guest columnist

Protect Initiative 937's incentives for renewable power

The Washington state Senate should reject an attempt to weaken voter-approved Initiative 937, argues Congressman Jay Inslee, D-Bainbridge Island. Voters were forward-thinking when they approved the 2006 measure to encourage more development of nonhydropower renewable resources — an objective that fits well with President Obama's vision for a role for clean energy in the 21st-century economy.

Special to The Times

ONE of Washington state's strengths is that we are always moving forward in technological and economic development. But in a break from that tradition, a bill now pending in the Washington Legislature threatens to move us backward in the vital economic field of clean energy.

In 2006, voters recognized the job-creation potential in clean energy when we passed Initiative 937, which requires 15 percent of energy to come from new, clean energy resources by 2020. But that job-creation engine now could be gutted by SSB 5840, which could cut the clean-energy requirement by as much 73 percent.

Why some special interests are seeking to undermine the voter-passed I-937 is puzzling. By all accounts, this two-year-old law has been hugely successful. Stimulated by the demand for clean energy, regional utilities now provide consumers with enough renewable energy to power 750,000 households annually. Twelve of the 17 qualifying utilities in Washington are expected to meet or exceed their first benchmark in 2012, and four utilities already meet the 2016 target. And this new renewable energy hasn't led to costly burdens on consumers. In fact, these new projects have been touted by utilities as least-cost options for future power.

It is sadly ironic that weeks after President Obama affirmed his commitment to create jobs and curb global warming by ensuring a minimum of 20 percent of our nation's electricity come from renewable-energy sources by 2025, some policymakers in Olympia are considering destroying the foundation for our existing state law that does the same. If allowed to succeed, this would send a profoundly negative message to Washington, D.C., at a crucial time in advancing President Obama's vision for a clean-energy future. Washington state should be a shining example of our country's clean-energy future.

President Obama is putting his shoulder behind renewable energy because it is good not only for the environment, but also the economy. Just four of the new wind projects in Washington have contributed nearly a billion dollars in new investment. Rural landowners are now able to stay on the land and continue traditional farming and ranching because each wind turbine earns them between $2,000 and $6,000 annually.

Counties dependent on traditional natural resources for their livelihood now receive between $3 million and $4 million each year in local property-tax revenues from renewable-energy projects. That means schools in Klickitat County remain open and prosper, and the county fire department can do a better job protecting its citizens with two new fire trucks. The Port of Vancouver estimates its longshoremen will work more than 100,000 hours in 2009 handling wind turbines, up from 14,000 hours in 2005.

Some might say we should abandon these job-creating initiatives in the face of our current economy. Some of those voices also oppose President Obama's economic-recovery package, which, like I-937, recognizes that the creation of jobs requires investment. That fact did not dissuade President Obama from action and it should not dissuade us. We are investing in our future — a clean one.

I was involved in brokering a compromise between public-utility officials and renewable-energy proponents in developing Washington's I-937 standards. They reflect a good-faith effort by all involved to put Washington on a path toward a cleaner future. Changes could be made to the initiative that preserve its intent — inclusion of pulp-paper waste and removing some geographic limitations among them — but such changes would have to be accompanied by more aggressive goals within the existing time frames of I-937.

Unfortunately, the proposal now sitting in the state Senate will move us backward. It would make Washington the only state in the country to have rolled back its renewable-portfolio standard and set back national efforts to advance a clean-energy future.

That's not the change we need.

Congressman Jay Inslee, D-Bainbridge Island, represents Washington's 1st Congressional District.

Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company

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