OPINION: State action essential for clean energy future

Guest opinion by local leaders.

  • Sunday, March 10, 2019 1:30am
  • Opinion

Recent summers were a wakeup call, with record heat, choking wildfire smoke, and lethal water temperatures for salmon. Climate change is no longer a distant threat for the next generation to worry about. It’s here now, and it’s impacting the health and safety of our families, ecosystems and economy here in King County.

Cities and counties do have tools at their disposal for acting on climate change, like adopting building codes for energy efficiency, electrifying fleets, and offering green building incentives. But when it comes to transitioning to powering our homes and businesses with clean, reliable electricity, we need state legislative action to build our clean energy future. That’s why we support Senate Bill 5116, landmark legislation that would move Washington state to 100 percent clean electricity by 2045.

As elected officials, we’re working regionally to tackle climate change through the King County-Cities Climate Collaboration (K4C). King County, 15 cities, and the Port of Seattle are collaborating to reduce greenhouse gas emissions across our communities by 50 percent by 2030, and 80 percent by 2050. Securing 90 percent renewable electricity supplies by 2030 is essential to meeting our goals and puts us well on the path to a 100 percent clean energy future.

Along with Puget Sound Energy and many partners, we are so happy to support Green Direct, a new renewable electricity option for public and large commercial customers. King County, seven cities, the Port of Seattle, Sound Transit, and local companies like REI and Starbucks have now committed to purchase electricity through Green Direct, significantly reducing greenhouse gas emissions from our government operations. For King County government alone, this shift is projected to reduce direct emissions from county operations by 20 percent and save money over the term of the agreement. Cities are securing similar benefits and we continue to partner with local utilities to conserve energy.

This is a great start, but clean electricity – and the benefits it brings for air quality, health and our clean energy economy – should be available to all our residents and businesses. Puget Sound Energy (PSE), which provides electricity for most of King County outside of Seattle, still gets 38 percent of its electricity from coal.

The bill before the Legislature this session smartly focuses on energy efficiency first as a cost-effective path to a clean energy future. It would also eliminate coal power from our grid by 2025, accelerating the closure of out-of-state coal plants like Colstrip in Eastern Montana, which is one of the largest single sources of climate pollution in the American West. The legislation also includes performance benchmarks that are important for ensuring progress: 80 percent fossil fuel free by 2030 and 100 percent by 2045. It provides regulatory flexibility for utilities to meet these goals while addressing reliability and ratepayer fairness — key concerns for our residents and employers, particularly given that King County is a major tech center.

This legislation would make Washington state a national leader in the clean energy transition nationwide, but we wouldn’t be alone. Hawaii and California have already passed similar statewide bills. More than 100 U.S. cities and counties, including Tacoma, Edmonds, Spokane, Bellingham and Whatcom County, have already pledged to move to 100 percent clean energy.

The transition to clean energy isn’t just the right thing to do for the environment, it’s an immense economic opportunity for Washington state, including here in King County. According to a recent study by E2, a national research and advocacy organization, nearly 83,000 Washingtonians now work in clean energy, including 8,500 in rural communities. These include general contractors who weatherize and modernize our homes, schools and businesses in every community in Washington state.

We’re taking local and regional climate action now to protect the health, environment and economy of future generations. We hope you’ll join us in asking your legislators to pass strong, effective state legislation to secure our clean energy future.

Claudia Balducci is a King County Councilmember representing District 6 (which encompasses all or part of Bellevue, Bothell, Clyde Hill, Hunts Point, Kirkland, Medina, Mercer Island, Redmond, Woodinville and Yarrow Point, Beaux Arts Village and the Sammamish Valley). Matt Larson is Mayor of Snoqualmie. Bruce Bassett is a current councilmember and former Mayor of Mercer Island.

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