Fixing I-937 should curb rapid power rate increases

The initiative forces utilities to buy renewable energy except hydropower, which is the source of most of Washington’s energy.

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Electricity isn’t the only thing shocking being generated by Pacific Power. The power company’s request this month for a 14.1 percent increase in rates has put a jolt into more than a few of its customers in the Walla Walla area.

We expect the Utilities and Transportation Commission will ultimately grant Pacific Power a rate increase because of the rising cost of doing business the company faces. We hope it will be less than the 14.1 percent requested.

Unfortunately, the cost of doing business in Washington state is higher than it needs to be because utilities are forced to purchase power produced from “renewable energy sources” because Initiative 937 was approved in 2006. Pacific Power’s cost is higher for most “green” energy than what is produced with hydro generation at the dams on the Snake and Columbia rivers.

But isn’t hydropower a “renewable energy?” After all, power is created by running river water through giant turbines as it flows toward the sea. The water isn’t gone after going through the turbines, it simply flows through them down the river to the next dam where it will generate more power. It’s relatively cheap to produce, which is why it is the major power source in Washington state.

Considering hydropower renewable energy is more than reasonable, it’s factual.

The only place it is not considered renewable is in I-937. And it was not included purely for political reasons. Since hydropower is relatively inexpensive, backers of I-937 wanted to force utilities to invest in other renewable energy technologies. I-937 requires large utilities to build toward obtaining 15 percent of their power by 2020 from renewable sources — specifically wind, solar, geothermal and certain woody biomass.

Not having hydro generation on the list of renewable sources of energy is ridiculous — and expensive.

Power rates have been rising. Pacific Power rates jumped 10.7 percent in 2011 and 1.5 percent last year. And these increases are less than were sought.

Pacific Power has many legitimate reasons it wants to raise rates — from putting money into maintaining, improving its infrastructure to returning a reasonable profit for its investors and complying with I-937. We understand why another rate hike is being requested, but we still don’t like it

The state Legislature has the power to change initiatives after two years when clear flaws become apparent. This is more than a flaw, it’s a huge crack that’s become a gaping hole.

Lawmakers in Olympia have failed to fix this flaw year after year, apparently fearing backlash from environmental extremists.

It’s time to make the necessary changes to I-937 so the law reflects reality and will not unnecessarily force the price of electricity higher.

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