‘I’m really concerned about ratepayers’: GOP questions bill to ban natural gas

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(The Center Square) – Republican lawmakers say one of the most concerning bills being moved forward by majority Democrats this session is what GOP members call the “anti-natural gas bill.”

That’s a reference to House Bill 1589 that would ban any gas company that serves more than 500,000 customers – that is, Puget Sound Energy – from connecting new natural gas lines to new residential or commercial buildings, with limited exemptions. Per HB 1589, PSE would also no longer be required to provide natural gas service to existing customers as currently mandated by state law.

A revised version of HB 1589 passed the House on Jan. 22 by a 52-45 vote.

During a Tuesday media briefing with reporters, Senator Shelly Short, R-Addy, expressed her concerns about the legislation.

“You know, I was here many years ago when coal was the topic of conversation, and looking at emissions and even the environmental community said natural gas was the way to go,” Short noted. “Now we come to the point where all of a sudden natural gas is bad.”

A ban on natural gas worries her.

“The language in the bill is very clear in the expectations, as it now tells the utility to go to the Utilities and Transportation Commission and it [a natural gas ban] can certainly be considered,” Short said.

Short told The Center Square when she asked the UTC about that, the UTC representative responded, “We will do what we’re told.”

That didn’t sit well with the senator.

“That was pretty stunning to have that admission from the regulatory entity that protects ratepayers from excessive costs,” she said.

During public testimony last week before the Senate Environment, Energy & Technology Committee, HB 1589 supporters argued changes made to the measure since it was first introduced last year vastly improved the legislation.

Anna Lising is Gov. Jay Inslee’s senior climate advisor.

“This bill charts a path for the state’s largest utility to modernize its energy services, and responsibly draw down it’s fossil fuel investments,” she told the committee. “With our nation-leading climate laws and regulations, we are rapidly decreasing emissions from fossil fuels and this bill enables Puget Sound Energy to make that happen.”

Still, Short remains concerned.

“There’s a new definition of cost-effective and what that means, there’s no cost cap, and if you’re a manufacturer, you’re not going to like that,” she said.

“The question comes down to the ratepayer, and will there be just monstrous costs to them?” Short asked.

She had more questions about the impact of HB 1589.

“Is it going to be reliable when you need it?” she asked. “I’m really concerned about ratepayers.”

According to the Building Industry Association of Washington, if the bill passes, it could mean an increase of up to $206 each month above current electrical and natural gas rates for homeowners.

The Center Square reached out to the office of Rep. Beth Doglio, D-Olympia, prime sponsor of HB 1589.

“It is currently being considered in the Senate Environment, Energy & Technology Committee and had a hearing on Wednesday of last week,” a spokesperson emailed The Center Square. “As for further action for the bill being scheduled, I don’t believe agendas have been set yet for when committees begin meeting again next week.”

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