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BIAW: Repealing the CCA won’t eliminate new natural gas phaseout law

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(The Center Square) – A day after Washington Gov. Jay Inslee signed into law one of the most controversial bills of the legislative session, reactions are coming in from opponents, including the Building Industry Association of Washington.

Engrossed Substitute House Bill 1589, dubbed the “natural gas ban bill” by detractors, is meant to hasten Puget Sound Energy’s transition away from natural gas to renewable energy sources.

Supporters argue the new law should have no immediate impact on rates – the Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission would have to approve any rate hikes – and is necessary to meet climate commitment goals as the utility moves toward decarbonization.

But opponents say customers will see utility bills increase, and transitioning away from natural gas-powered water heaters, stove tops, and fireplaces could cost homeowners tens of thousands of dollars.

Jan Himebaugh, BIAW’s managing director of external affairs, spoke with The Center Square Friday.

“It’s so disappointing that the powers-that-be don’t have considerations for the added costs on consumers,” she said. “It’s a real shame, and it’s certainly talking out of both sides of their mouth when they talk about housing affordability, and this drives up the cost of everything.”

Converting a household to electricity will cost $40,000 to $50,000, BIAW estimates.

“When PSE and UTC decide they are no longer going to provide service to those current customers, you’re going to force folks to have to upgrade or change their systems in their homes, it’s just adding to costs on top of costs,” she said.

In a previous interview with The Center Square, Sen. Andy Billig, D-Spokane, downplayed the possibility of cost increases.

“The idea that rates will go up in the short term is simply scaremongering by anybody that says that,” he said. “Rates have to be approved by the UTC, which is a bipartisan group of regulators who receive applications from the utilities, and then they evaluate that.”

The commission, he explained, does not merely acquiesce to PSE.

“The UTC reviews rate cases made by the utilities, and then there’s a representative for the public that then advocates for the public interest and the UTC listens to those arguments and then makes their decisions,” he said. “They have a long history of denying requests from the utilities if the requests are too high, and that happens regularly.”

But Himebaugh says it’s clear ESHB 1589 is a push to convert natural gas customers to electricity.

“It says you have to make a way to stop selling natural gas,” she said.

Himebaugh quashed the notion that ESHB 1589 would be moot if voters in November approved Initiative 2117 to repeal the Climate Commitment Act and get rid of the state’s carbon market.

One of the stated goals in ESHB 1589 is meeting deadlines for carbon reduction set in the CCA.

“It references some of the Climate Commitment Act but only in sort of funding it but this has nothing to do with the CCA,” Himebaugh said. “This measure continues on regardless of whether that initiative passes.”

Himebaugh explained that ESHB 1589 is more in line with the 2019 Clean Energy Transformation Act that requires the state’s electric utilities to full transition to clean, renewable and non-emitting resources by 2045.

“But even suggesting the bill is necessary to be in compliance is not true,” she said. “Other utilities don’t need this measure to be compliant with CCA or CETA.”

Himebaugh railed against ESHB 1589.

“It’s a money grab, a giveaway to a foreign-owned energy monopoly; a government-protected foreign-owned energy monopoly so that they can make more for their CCA and CETA obligations on the backs of fixed-income seniors, low-income residents, the middle-class, restaurants, and other businesses,” she said.

BIAW will be thoughtful, Himebaugh said, and take it slow in terms of figuring out how to respond to the signing of the bill into law.

“There are all kinds of litigation issues with the measure as passed,” she said. “But everything is on the table, whether that’s an initiative or an election of a different governor, or a repeal in the Legislature; everything is an option.”

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