In the first session since the Democrats have taken control of both houses of the state legislature, perhaps the most ambitious bill in the country requiring a transition to renewable energy was passed into law. It primarily focuses on what will feed our electric grid but will have some implications for other energy infrastructure as well. The law requires that all coal-based electricity be eliminated by 2025. Our energy provider, private company Puget Sound Energy, will take two of their four coal plants offline by 2022, and have promised to remove one more by 2025. They had intended to run the fourth plant possibly as late as 2035 but will now be required to retire that plant also by 2025. That is a big win for reducing carbon as that complex is considered the 11th most polluting coal plant in the nation. It is located in Montana, but the power is used here in Washington.
Secondly, the new law requires that all electricity be carbon neutral by 2030. That means that all carbon producing energy must be offset by carbon sequestration somewhere else, i.e., by planting trees or regenerating soil. Thirdly, the law requires that all electricity used in this state be 100% carbon free by 2045. To put this in perspective, remember that up until now, our nonbinding goal has been to be 80% carbon free by 2050. A fourth item in the bill will require energy companies to include the social costs of carbon pollution in the cost of any facility they are planning on buying or building in the future. It is meant to act as a disincentive to building fossil-fuel-based infrastructure.
According to the document referred to in the new legislation, the social costs of carbon are monetized costs experienced by people due to damage to “net agricultural productivity, human health, property damages from increased flood risk, and the value of ecosystem services due to climate change.”
Is this enough? No, the UN International Panel on Climate Change says that our carbon output needs to fall by 45% below 2010 levels by 2030 and be 100% carbon-free by 2050 if we want to have any hope of staying within 1½ degrees C of global temperature rise. That means all other sources of carbon output, transportation, agriculture, manufacturing, etc., will also need to meet those targets. So, the new bill is as good as it gets these days, but we will have to do much more.
What can we do personally? A whole lot! You can plan to drive and travel less, get an electric car or bike, make your home more energy efficient, install solar panels, air dry your clothes, regenerate your soil, grow some of your own food, and be more active in promoting change at the local, state, national, and global levels.
We have an opportunity on May 22 to tell PSE what we would like them to do to speed up the changeover to renewable energy. The Vice President of PSE, David Mills, will be at the Bellevue Hilton between 4 pm and 8 pm to listen to rate payers. We can tell him that the changeover to renewables must occur much sooner than the new law mandates. In addition to commenting on their energy plans, we also have an opportunity to tell him what we think about the new compressed natural gas facility they are building on the Tacoma tide flats.
PSE feels that natural gas is a cleaner “bridge fuel” that will help reduce our rate of carbon buildup in the atmosphere. They want to sell this gas primarily as a cleaner alternative to “bunker oil” now used for marine shipping. They will serve the gas heating needs of their customers only during unusually cold weather. Even so, the cost of the plant will be borne by us. Natural gas is cleaner burning than other fossil fuels, but when the gas that escapes during extraction and transportation is included, as well as the other polluting activities in the fracking process, there is no relative advantage to using natural gas. Building major fossil fuel infrastructure at a time that gas will be increasingly uncompetitive with renewables and at a time when there is every reason to leave fossil resources in the ground, defies explanation. I’ve learned recently that Governor Inslee, who originally endorsed the project, has now withdrawn his support. As the presidential candidate that wants to prioritize the climate crisis, he needed to do this. It makes one wonder, though, why he endorsed it in the first place.
You can learn more about the PSE plant and carpool plans to attend the meeting with PSE Vice President Mills, our current and possible energy scenarios, and a number of other local projects you could be involved in, by coming to the Vashon Indivisible Climate Action Committee gathering this Sunday May 19, 1 pm – 3 pm, at the Vashon Co-housing Commons House. Also, you can sign up to attend the PSE meeting by sending an email here: firstname.lastname@example.org. This is a critical moment in history when what we do as a society will impact the planet for hundreds, maybe thousands, of years. You don’t want to have to say that you stood on the sidelines when the world as we know it was on the brink of disaster.