Library filed under Taxes & Subsidies from Washington
Taking the wrong route to the right destination can ruin a trip. Which is why Washington voters should be wary of Initiative 937, a ballot measure that purports to steer the state toward a cleaner, cheaper power future based on wind. Ostensibly, the initiative is about all kinds of renewable energy, from biomass to ocean tides, but even advocates of I-937 concede it is primarily about wind.
A clean-energy initiative on the November ballot promises to reduce the state’s dependence on fossil fuels, combat global warming and cut the cost of electricity. Backers of the measure, Initiative 937, also say new wind farms would generate millions in tax dollars for struggling rural communities. Can the initiative deliver on all those promises? It’s unclear.
In a state where environmental issues often find ample support, an initiative to compel utilities to use cleaner energy should be the least controversial of the three measures on the statewide ballot in November. But after months of little to no debate over the measure — which would require the state’s large utilities to increase renewable energy sources to 15 percent of their supply by 2020 — opponents have started speaking out, arguing that Initiative 937 would raise customers’ rates. “It’s a feel-good initiative,” said Chris McCabe, spokesman for the Association of Washington Business, which is opposed to the measure. “Everyone wants a cleaner environment. It’s easy for people to buy into that. It’s one of those things where the devil is in the details.”
In the 16th- century church, those who were long on cash but short on righteous living could balance the equation by buying indulgences, representing a sort of absolution for sinful behavior. Indulgences may have disappeared about the time of Martin Luther, but they seem to be alive and thriving in a more contemporary religion — the Church of the Green. Wells Fargo & Co. announced this week that it is buying renewable energy certificates for 550 million kilowatt-hours of wind energy a year for three years. The bank said the acquisition makes it the “largest corporate purchaser of renewable energy in the United States,” but it’s hardly the first. Everyone from the National Farmers Union to Audubon New York to Whole Foods to Starbucks to FedEx Kinko’s has done similar deals. And how much of this “clean” wind-generated electricity will Wells Fargo be taking for its own branches, offices and facilities, to supplant supposedly “dirty” power it’s getting from other sources? Not a single watt.
Power company Avista Corp. (AVA.N: Quote, Profile, Research) said on Monday it opposes an initiative in Washington state requiring 15 percent of power supply to come from renewable sources, saying the measure would boost prices and that it fails to count existing hydropower.
But in this initiative, there’s clean energy and then there’s clean energy. Pushed by several environmental groups, I-937 excludes hydropower — made eminently renewable by spring rains and winter snowpack that melts and turns dam turbines on rivers across the state — as a qualifying source of power...... Let’s be honest. Washington has one of the cleanest energy profiles in the nation when it comes to green-house gas emissions from electricity generation. The state ranks third-best in pounds of carbon dioxide produced per kilowatt hour, just behind Idaho and Vermont, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. In 2002, the most recent year figures are available, Washington’s rate was half of California’s, one-fifth of Massachusetts’ and less than one-third of New York’s. Thank the state’s reliance on hydropower. At least 60 percent of Washington’s juice comes from dams.
This initiative is really about wind power. The initiative counts other renewables, such as biomass, solar and tidal power, but other approaches are less advanced. Bizarrely, I-937 leaves out a biggie. Hydropower — that hallmark renewable of the Northwest — doesn't count, except for efficiencies made at qualifying utility dams since 1999. That's right: Hydropower doesn't count as renewable energy in the initiative.
Voters have a voice in the state’s energy future when they cast their ballots in the Nov. 7 general election. Initiative 937 would require the state’s 17 largest utilities to invest in all cost-effective energy-conservation projects at their disposal and obtain 15 percent of their electricity from new renewable energy resources, including wind and solar, by 2020. Supporters insist the goals can be achieved without taking a big bite out of ratepayer pocketbooks, while building on a regional legacy of clean hydropower and energy independence. “We have a choice of charting a path toward a cleaner energy future,” said initiative backer K.C. Golden, a former state energy policy director and policy director for Climate Solutions. Critics fear passage would drive up energy customers’ costs from $185 million to $370 million a year and create an artificial economy around new energy resources.
While the Audubon Society supports wind power, the group understandingly is lobbying state and local governments to require regional environmental impact studies before permitting proposed wind energy projects. In addition, Audubon wants each state to do a statewide survey to identify potential wind farm sites and overlay those sites with migratory bird pathways and bird and bat habitats.
Cantwell, a member of the Senate Energy Committee, helped push through Congress a two-year extension of a production tax credit for wind energy, which helped seal the current Vestas deal and provide jobs at the Port, Clark said. The credit was to expire on Dec. 31, 2005. The extension provides a 1.9 cent per kilowatt hour tax credit to the wind farm owner -- which passes the savings to ratepayers -- for electricity generated with turbines over the first 10 years of a project -- a break that has been crucial to wind farm development, port officials said. Cantwell said she also has proposed a bill for the development of clean energy that would ensure the tax credit until 2015. The lengthy extension would provide more predictability for investment and allow the wind power industry to grow, she said.
The power of the federal tax code was on display Friday at the Port of Longview for a U.S. senator to see. Wind towers made in China and South Korea were on their sides waiting to be hauled away by truck or rail car to a wind farm somewhere in North America. Thanks in part to a made-in-the-USA tax shelter, importing wind towers from Asia has grown from zero to about 15 percent of the port's business in three years.
Beware, Washington voters — wind power is too good to be true. Approving the November ballot initiative [I-937] won't solve a thing. The current hype over wind power's credentials as a "clean and renewable" source of energy is belied by wind power's Achilles' heel — its intermittency. This fundamental flaw limits both wind energy's capacity value and its impact on emissions.
Why advocates want the return to the power of wind turning a blade is part environmental commitment and part attraction of the wind-farm industry to substantial federal subsidies. This is both the age of sail and the age of sale.
OLYMPIA, Wash. (AP) -- Voters will get to choose whether to require state utility companies to increase renewable energy sources to 15 percent of their supply by 2020.
A series of factors -- including increasing demand for wind farms, rising costs for materials and the weakening U.S. dollar -- have driven up construction prices. At the same time, Northwest dams don't have enough remaining flexibility to supplement and smooth the up and down generation patterns of new wind farms.
OLYMPIA -- The Columbia-Snake River Irrigators Association is pressing the Benton and Franklin PUDs to take a stand against a citizens initiative that would require the utilities to buy more green power.
That windmills retain a mystical popularity among its Northwest supporters, is truly a triumph of hope over substance, not to mention unawareness of hidden costs and poor performance data. There is a huge amount of information now available regarding wind energy from around the United States and Europe. It’s not good news.