As utilities warn of blackouts, Ericksen calls for reexamination of state energy strategy

  • Legislature ignored consequences in rush to pass climate bill
  • Utilities warn of transmission problems, power shortages, even blackouts
  • Ericksen calls for hearings in Olympia, public airing of issues

OLYMPIA – A new state law banning the use of fossil fuels for electricity by 2045 has utilities worried about supply problems and blackouts – and Sen. Doug Ericksen, R-Ferndale, is calling for a full airing of the issue during open committee sessions in Olympia.

Ericksen, lead Republican member of the Senate Energy, Environment and Telecommunications Committee, said warnings from public and private utilities and the Bonneville Power Administration are serious enough to warrant public hearings or committee work sessions this fall. The committee heard frank and open discussion of utility concerns during a tour of Tacoma Power facilities Tuesday.

“This was the discussion we should have had before the bill was rushed to the Senate and House floors last session,” Ericksen said. “We tried to raise these issues during debate in the Senate, but it was drowned out by rhetoric, rosy predictions and wishful thinking. What important now is getting the law right while there is still time to fix it.”

During this week’s tour, representatives of Tacoma Power, Puget Sound Energy and the Bonneville Power Administration outlined concerns with last session’s SB 5116. The measure requires early termination of major sources of baseload power and the complete elimination of natural gas by 2045.

During debates last spring, advocates of the legislation said surely something can be found to replace the power by the time the rules kick in. But the utility representatives said Tuesday that’s harder than it sounds:

  • Eliminating baseload generating capacity without planning for its replacement risks supply shortages, even blackouts in the dead of winter.
  • Eliminating natural gas removes a crucial backstop for intermittent windpower.
  • If new plants are built, time-consuming regulatory hurdles and environmental opposition will make it difficult to construct new transmission lines.
  • And costly new state mandates could make development of new power sources unprofitable.

“The Legislature basically told utilities, ‘You do it,’ and now they’re saying they need the Legislature’s help,” Ericksen said. “We should listen to them. And first things first, we need to have this discussion in public, so the people of Washington can see what happens when we legislate first and ask questions later.”