No time to lose on transitioning to clean energy | Guest column

The following letter was co-authored by Kirkland Deputy Mayor Jay Arnold and Issaquah City Councilmember Victoria Hunt, and was distributed by Puget Sound Energy’s Local Government Affairs and Public Policy Manager Matt Larson:

In 2019, the legislature passed the historic Clean Energy Transformation Act (CETA), which requires Washington State energy producers to be carbon neutral by 2030, and reach a 100 percent clean electricity energy supply by 2045. Setting that mandate was an important first step, but now it is imperative we ensure that utilities make the transition to a decarbonized future in a planned and expedited way.

Climate change is an existential threat, and we must respond to that challenge with boldness and urgency. That is why we participate in the King County Cities Climate Collaboration (K4C): 22 cities, King County, and the Port of Seattle working together on what we can do within our organizations and also what we can do together through outreach and advocacy. And that is why we support House Bill 1589. This legislation, which has passed the state House and is currently under consideration in the Senate, will take the next big step to decarbonize our energy grid by ensuring that our state’s biggest energy supplier, Puget Sound Energy (PSE), lessens its reliance on fossil fuels, caps the expansion of the natural gas system, and transitions to clean energy.

Given that this detailed legislation maps out a regulatory framework to transition off of fossil fuels and to a decarbonized future, we believe it is one of the most consequential bills of this legislative session, and we urge the Senate to pass it and send it to Governor Inslee for his Signature.

Make no mistake, transitioning our utilities to clean energy is going to be a massive and complex undertaking, and fully decarbonizing a gas system of the scale contemplated in HB 1589 has not been done yet. Multiple changes will be necessary for this transition; for example, for PSE to meet its CETA obligations already requires adding about 6.7 gigawatts of new clean power production by 2030 – roughly the equivalent of the output from 23 Wild Horse sized wind farms. That is why we were pleased when PSE stepped up to pursue changes that will facilitate and speed up this conversion. As the Washington Observer, an Olympia-focused political newsletter, noted recently, “It’s not often that a major company asks the state to halt the growth of one of its largest lines of business.” PSE should continue to work closely with the labor community to get this transition to a clean energy future right.

House Bill 1589 is the first legislation of its kind in the nation that develops a framework to make this shift to a carbon-free future a reality. We know the need to decarbonize by 2045; we need to spur action now to make it happen. The legislature in Olympia has the opportunity here to set a model for the nation for how we transition to a clean energy future.

Without such a framework, the transition may not happen at the urgent pace that it needs to proceed. We are feeling the harmful impacts of climate change now, from increased frequency and intensity of natural hazards including wildfires and harmful smoke, to flooding and extreme heat; we need to respond now to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The transition to a clean energy future cannot happen overnight, so we need to act now to move forward. We have a responsibility to make this clean energy transition happen before it is too late, and this is an important step in the right direction.