Inslee supports renewables, as long his friends own them

In Gov. Jay Inslee’s administration, their top issue is carbon reduction and renewable energy. No need to take my word for it, just look at the governor’s legislative agendas, his policy announcements and his out-of-state trips. No single issue sustains the governor’s attention quite like the fight against carbon.

So you’d think that just about anything that helps promote green energy would be championed by Inslee. Instead, a recent veto shows that in the Inslee administration, political considerations still count for more.

Good idea quashed
The vetoed bill, SB 6166, was a smart, seemingly innocuous tweak to the state’s renewable energy law, which passed as I-937 in 2006. The bill was sponsored by state Sen. Dean Takko, a Longview Democrat. It would have allowed the local KapStone paper mill, which significantly upgraded its biomass power production facilities, to sell its excess biomass power to utilities and have that power count toward the utilities’ renewable energy mandates. As it stands now, only facilities originally built after 1999 are eligible to count their energy as renewable under the law.

It sounds like a solid, non-controversial idea – in fact, the bill passed easily in the Senate and House with large bipartisan majorities. It supports a biomass project, which the Inslee administration has applauded before. It would reward KapStone for investing in and upgrading its biomass capability and efficiency. Most importantly, it would give others incentive to upgrade their own facilities.

So what’s the catch?
One problem: the bill was unpopular with some of Gov. Inslee’s closest allies, the wind and solar industries. If KapStone’s biomass power was allowed to count as “renewable,” that would add to the total amount of renewable energy available for utilities to purchase, as the law requires them to do.

The wind and solar industries want utilities buying from them, not from a biomass competitor. Allowing upgraded biomass facilities to sell power under the renewable energy law undercuts them. So, they had Inslee kill off the bill for them.

In his veto message, Inslee wrote, “I appreciate the intent of this bill to encourage owners to make capital improvements that increase the efficiency and use of renewable energy at older biomass facilities. However, the bill would undermine investments in renewable energy previously made by others,” i.e., his wind and solar supporters.

The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Takko, noted the negative effect this will have on other businesses considering making biomass upgrades:

Takko said Inslee’s veto could detract from mills’ efforts to further reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

“It kind of takes the incentive away from some other mills that might want to upgrade their facility because they aren’t going to receive credit for it,” Takko said Monday.

I think I-937 needs more tweaks than just this bill. The governor doesn’t; I understand that. But by vetoing this particular bill, it’s clear that overall renewable energy production isn’t that important to him.

The governor wants more renewable energy – so long as it’s sold by his friends in the wind and solar industries. Shouldn’t these decisions be guided by smart policy, not politics and money?
-Rob McKenna

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Rob McKenna
Rob served two terms as Washington’s Attorney General, from 2005 to 2013. He successfully argued three cases before the U.S. Supreme Court and negotiated three of the largest consumer financial protection settlements in national history, all involving mortgage lending and servicing. He is a recognized leader in the development of consumer protections on the internet, in data protection and privacy regulation.