This year, the Washington Legislature finally cracked the I-937 nut, if only in a modest way. Passed by voters in 2006, I-937 requires Washington utilities to adopt all cost-effective conservation measures and also requires utilities to provide specific percentages of their power portfolios from "eligible renewable resources" (3% this year, rising to 9% in 2016, and reaching 20% in 2020). As soon as I-937 was open for legislative amendment in 2008, extensive amendments to the Initiative were proposed in each legislative session. This year, two bills finally made it through the legislative logjam.
The first, SSB 6414, is particularly important for Washington's consumer-owned utilities. If there is doubt about whether a project qualifies under I-937's conservation or renewable energy standards, a consumer-owned utility now has the option of applying for an advisory opinion from the Washington Department of Commerce. If the Department concludes that the project qualifies and the utility's elected board adopts that conclusion in an open hearing, the conclusion is binding during the I-937 audit and enforcement process. With passage of the new legislation, consumer-owned utilities now have a mechanism to remove a significant source of uncertainty arising under I-937.
The second bill, ESB 5575, allows certain "legacy" biomass plants, built before 1999, to be counted as "eligible renewable resources," so that the utility purchasing output from those plants can count the power produced towards its I-937 renewable targets. The legislation primarily benefits existing forest products facilities with associated generators fired by wood waste and was viewed largely as a means of supporting struggling industrial facilities, especially in Washington's rural counties. It also modestly expands the choices available to utilities to meet their I-937 targets.