Inslee's New Way to Greenlight
by Don Jenkins
OLYMPIA -- The House Appropriations Committee is scheduled to vote Thursday on creating a bureaucracy to fast-track solar installations, battery-storage stations and other green-energy projects.
House Bill 1216, proposed by Gov. Jay Inslee, has backing from labor and business groups, and has picked up some Republican support.
The bill promises to create jobs and set a precedent for businesses to get swifter government approval for large projects.
If passed, the Department of Ecology would help obtain permits for power generators, alternative fuel refineries and green-energy-related manufacturers.
Ecology would organize meetings and set deadlines for counties and other state agencies to finish environmental reviews and issue permits.
Currently, companies go it alone by applying to counties or the state Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council. Inslee has said the state's approach to approving green-energy projects is outdated.
Ecology estimates it would assist 15 projects a year, a far bigger workload than seen at EFSEC.
State agencies project hiring 41 employees and spending $19.5 million the first two years. Most, 26, would work for Ecology, though 10 other agencies would add positions to speed up projects.
Inslee policy adviser Becky Kelley told the House Appropriations Committee on Tuesday that the bill will help the state halve carbon emissions by 2030 and eliminate them by 2050.
"We've got to site and build a lot of new projects," she said.
No one testified against the bill at Tuesday's hearing.
A state law to phase out electricity generated by coal and natural gas has attracted energy developers to propose solar installations on thousands of acres of farmland in Eastern Washington.
Several counties have tried to slow the rush by passing moratoriums on solar installations. EFSEC can overrule local land-use laws.
Inslee's bill would still require companies to obtain county permits. "That's the best thing about the bill," Washington State Association of Counties policy director Paul Jewell said.
The counties association has not endorsed the bill. Jewell said he wants the bill to require companies to provide community benefits, such as by contributing to schools, parks or some other public project. "You could be creative," he said.
The Democratic-controlled House Environment and Energy Committee endorsed the bill earlier this month.
Three of the committee's six Republicans voted "yes" after Democrats agreed to study how renewable-energy projects are impacting Eastern Washington's landscape and economies.
"We are taking the concerns of rural communities and ag and forestry very seriously as we build our clean-energy economy," committee Chairwoman Beth Dogolio, D-Olympia.
Inslee's proposal also is moving through the Senate. The bill passed the Democratic-controlled Senate Environment and Energy Committee. All three committee Republicans voted "no."
The bill also would create a council made up of state agencies to look at further fast-tracking renewable-energy projects.
Under current law, there are 41 permits Ecology could issue for a green-energy project. Ecology would look into developing one permit to cover all state and local permits.
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