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Commentaries and editorials

Zarker's Critics Ignoring the Basics of Energy Crisis

by Steve Ernst
Puget Sound Business Journal, February 21, 2003

Seattle City Light has its share of problems, but not having been prepared for the energy crisis isn't one of them.

The utility's handling of a billing snafu that overcharged customers last year was boneheaded. And City Light's trading of millions of dollars worth of electricity without a comprehensive risk management policy seems absurd.

Hiring an advisory board of utility professionals will no doubt make City Light a better utility.

But to say City Light should have seen the energy crisis of 2000 and 2001 coming or that the $590 million tab it rang up buying electricity during the crisis was the result of poor management fails to grasp the magnitude of the energy crisis.

This week City Light Superintendent Gary Zarker began a reconfirmation hearing spurred largely by several reports that criticized his handling of the crisis.

Washington's fledgling renewable energy industry could get a boost from the state Legislature.

A bill proposed this week by Rep. Zack Hudgins, D-Tukwila, would require utilities to generate a portion of their electricity from clean energy sources, like wind and solar power.

By 2010, utilities would need to generate 5 percent of their power from renewable resources, other than hydroelectricity, according to House Bill 1544.

The energy portfolio standard would rise to 15 percent by 2023. The bill would also set a conservation standard for utilities. By 2010, energy consumption would need to be reduced by 0.85 percent per year.

"This bill will help us hedge against future increases in energy prices, by spreading out where we get our power from," Hudgins said. "The outcome of this bill will also be jobs, while encouraging new and better technology."

The renewable energy industry in Washington, Oregon and British Columbia generates $1.4 billion annually in revenue and is expected to grow into a $2.5 billion industry over the next 20 years, according to a study of the industry completed last year.

The study, called "Poised for Profit: How Clean Energy Can Power the Next High-Tech Job Surge in the Northwest," was commissioned by Climate Solutions, an Olympia-based nonprofit environmental group, along with Seattle City Light, the state Office of Trade and Economic Development and the Bonneville Power Administration.

"We know that a wind farm creates three permanent jobs, compared to two jobs created by a natural-gas-fired power plant," said Kevin Fullerton, interim communications director at Northwest Energy Coalition, a Seattle-based nonprofit that advocates energy efficiency and renewable energy.

In addition to providing jobs in rural communities, development of renewable energy projects would also increase the tax bases in rural areas, Fullerton said.

Advocates of the bill point to the State Line Wind Energy Center near Walla Walla as an example of how renewable energy can help generate cash for rural economies. The Stateline Project is expected to generate $1.5 million in tax money this year for Walla Walla County. In addition, the project's developer, Florida Power & Light, pays between $2,000 and $4,000 to local farmers to lease the land the turbines sit on.

The region currently generates less than 3 percent of its power from renewable energy sources, other than hydroelectricity.

If the legislation passes, Washington would join 14 other states with energy portfolio standards. The states of Utah and Colorado are also considering similar legislation.


Steve Ernst
Zarker's Critics Ignoring the Basics of Energy Crisis
Puget Sound Business Journal, February 21, 2003

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