Inslee Proposes Speeding Up
by Don Jenkins
OLYMPIA -- Gov. Jay Inslee has moved to boost his administration's power to shepherd wind farms, transmission lines and other green-energy projects to completion in Eastern Washington.
Under House Bill 1216, introduced Jan. 10 at the governor's request, the Inslee administration would help select projects obtain permits, opening a new path for energy companies to build.
Rather than applying to counties or the state Energy Facility Site Evaluation, developers could apply to the Departments of Commerce and Ecology.
Counties would have to sign agreements with the state and companies "expediting the completion" of projects that would help the state reach its greenhouse gas-reduction goals.
Inslee, in a state of the state address Jan. 10, said Washington can take "deep pride" in the climate laws and rules it has adopted.
"Now, our focus shifts to implementation and investment. And when we do this, we need more capacity to permit clean-energy projects in a timely manner," he said.
At the United Nations climate summit in November, Inslee said "nimbyism" threatened to slow down green-energy projects. He said in December that state siting laws were obsolete.
Some green-energy developers have turned to the state council after being rebuffed by counties. HB 1216 would not change the council's status.
The bill, however, proposes a streamlined process for projects of "statewide significance." Ecology would speed-up environmental reviews and set deadlines for agencies to issue permits.
Washington State Association of Counties policy director Paul Jewell said county officials likely will want to clarify their obligations to expedite reviews of energy projects.
County planners typically review projects in the order they come in, he said. "Are we supposed to just clear the desks?" he said. "That would worry us because we have a housing crisis going on right now."
House Republicans have introduced a bill barring Inslee from approving wind or solar projects opposed by a county or tribe. Rep. Mary Dye, R-Pomeroy, said the bill responded to Inslee's veto last year of a study on how wind and solar projects are impacting rural economies and tax bases.
"Communities need a way to say where and how much, and have the state consider the negative impacts to school funding, public safety and county roads, as well as the traditional and cultural land use," said Dye, the top-ranking Republican on the House Environment and Energy Committee.
HB 1216 has been referred to the Environment and Energy Committee. No hearing has been set yet.
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