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Gov. Inslee Signs 'Strongest' Clean-Energy Bill in Nation

The clean-energy sector already provides nearly 83,000 jobs in Washington state. (agnormark/Abode Stock)
The clean-energy sector already provides nearly 83,000 jobs in Washington state. (agnormark/Abode Stock)
May 7, 2019

SEATTLE — Gov. Jay Inslee is signing one of the most comprehensive clean energy bills in the country today. Washington state lawmakers passed Senate Bill 5116 last month, committing the state to a carbon-free electricity grid by 2045, and the bill lays out, step by step, how it will get there.

By 2025, the Evergreen State will completely phase out coal, which currently supplies about 14% of its electricity. The measure also gets labor unions on board and will invest in low-income and rural communities that are on the front lines of climate change.

Rebecca Ponzio, climate and fossil-fuel program director at the Washington Environmental Council, said those factors make it the strongest bill of its kind in the nation.

"Investing in jobs and people, really addressing some inequities that have existed for a long time and doing it while reducing climate pollution, that is the path forward that we want to be paving now for climate action,” Ponzio said.

To soothe concerns that these new standards will raise energy prices, the legislation includes an annual 2% cap on cost increases.

Washington is the fourth state in the nation to commit to 100% clean energy. The state already generates 75% of its energy from carbon-free sources - largely relying on hydropower.

The bill aims to protect jobs as well, providing tax breaks for clean-energy projects that prove they will compensate workers' prevailing wage rates and work with local unions. Matthew Hepner is executive director of the Certified Electrical Workers of Washington and a city councilman in East Wenatchee. He said tax incentives work to create jobs.

"It felt like a very fair trade,” Hepner said. “So the developers get their tax exemptions and we get workplace and labor standards."

Sean O'Leary, communications director with the Northwest Energy Coalition, said the renewable-energy jobs sector already is booming. It boasts nearly 83,000 jobs in Washington state, with a large swath of workers in energy efficiency. O'Leary said the bill takes special consideration of this, specifying investments in energy efficiency for low-income residents' homes to help with things such as weatherization and insulation, which can be expensive upgrades.

"It helps those people by both making their homes more comfortable, safer and healthier, and it also helps the electric system by reducing overall consumption of electricity and reducing costs,” O’Leary said.

Inslee will sign the bill in Seattle's Central Park on Tuesday at 3 p.m.

Disclosure: Washington Environmental Council contributes to our fund for reporting. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.
Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - WA