Working Today to Meet Tomorrow’s Carbon Reduction Standards
In May 2019, Gov. Jay Inslee signed into law a landmark piece of legislation that will transform the electrical supply across Washington over the next 25 years.
The Clean Energy Transformation Act (CETA) commits the state to transition to 100 percent clean electricity by 2045.
Electricity production is the third-largest source of carbon emissions in the state. The bill aims to curb that by eliminating coal power, including the importation of electricity produced by coal-fired power plants in neighboring states, by 2025. Washington utilities, including Clark Public Utilities, are required by law to transition to a carbon-neutral electricity supply by 2030, before eliminating fossil fuel electricity production completely by 2045.
Compliance with the new law presents unique challenges and opportunities to Clark Public Utilities and more than 60 other utilities from around the state.
Clark is one of the few public utility districts in the state to own its own generating plant. While Clark Public Utilities purchases almost 70 percent of its power from non-carbon emitting sources—63 percent of which is carbon free, renewable hydropower—about 29 percent of the energy is produced by the utility’s natural gas-fired River Road Generating Plant and 2 percent is sourced from coal-fired power plants.
The Clark Public Utilities leadership team and leaders from other publicly and privately owned utilities are working with state officials to define parameters and optional pathways to reaching those goals while still providing customers with reliable and affordable electricity.
CETA was just one bill in a suite of clean energy legislation signed into law during the last legislative session. The ambitious package aims at meeting carbon reductions proposed in the Paris climate accord, which the federal government announced its intention to leave in 2017.
To meet the 2030 standards mentioned above, utilities will have to replace coal-based resources with nonemitting and renewable sources, be they wind, hydropower or other sources, in addition to becoming more efficient.
The law includes provisions that strive to protect low-income customers and benefit all state residents—including those that would be affected most through climate change and environmental pollution. Utilities will be required to provide energy assistance to low-income customers and to tailor programs to vulnerable populations and households with high energy burdens.
The legislation requires utilities to use a framework that enables the facilitation of public participation and oversight while working to meet reduction goals.
Utilities will be required to account for the costs of carbon pollution when considering energy sources. They must develop short- and long-term plans clean energy plans that demonstrate how they’ll meet carbon standards for the lowest reasonable cost.
The law is currently undergoing the rulemaking process. Stakeholders and state government officials from the Department of Commerce are working together to establish the rules of implementing CETA and making changes to the Energy Independence Act, which utilities also must comply with.
Clark Public Utilities invites its customer-owners to participate in the rulemaking process. Through the end of the year, Commerce is hosting a series of webinars and workshops on an array of subjects relevant to the law.
Topics will include modernizing community grids and workforce development; planning, compliance, reporting requirements; the social cost of carbon; and low Income and equity considerations under CETA.
More information about the webinars and workshops is available at the Department of Commerce.
- Clean Energy Plans: Utilities must develop clean energy plans on a frequent basis. The first milestone for all electric utilities comes in 2022 when they must prepare and publish a clean energy implementation plan with targets for energy efficiency and renewable energy.
- Regulatory Flexibility: The Utilities and Transportation Commission, one of the state agencies tasked with overseeing the implementation of CETA, may use performance-based rate making and other tools to work with utilities as they try to meet lower emission standards.
- Renewable Resources: As it has been since the New Deal Era, hydropower will continue to play a central role in the Pacific Northwest energy supply in the CETA era. Still, utilities are expected to look to other technological innovations and investments that will reduce emissions in other areas.
- Alternative Solutions: In an effort to reach their lower emission goals, utilities may turn to other sectors to reduce pollution. That may include, but is not limited to, expanding and incentivizing the local electric vehicle charging grid to facilitate the transition away from gasoline engines.
- Emerging Technology: State lawmakers are aware that renewable energy technologies are still in their infancy and many are not yet ready to be scaled to real world applications. The law provides a cost cap so that utilities won’t be penalized if they can’t meet reduction deadlines because renewable products aren’t available or affordable.