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Washington Senate committee advances natural gas bill

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(The Center Square) – A Washington State Senate committee has voted to advance House Bill 1589 that has implications for current and future natural gas customers in Puget Sound, while critics say the full costs to ratepayers and taxpayers needs further examination.

“It’s not looking at what the cost is going to be when it becomes fully implemented,” Rep. Drew MacEwen, R-Shelton, told colleagues at the Senate Environment, Energy & Technology’s Friday executive session. “That is a significant cost that will be borne by taxpayers across the state.”

MacEwen unsuccessfully sought to amend the bill so that the state Utilities and Transportation Commission would have to study the cost for large utility customers to switch from natural gas to clean electricity and report back to the Legislature.

He said that the bill’s fiscal note does not account for all the costs for the state and should be fixed in the Senate Ways & Means Committee.

Also speaking against the bill was Sen. Shelly Short, R-Addy, who told colleagues that “we’ve never peeled back the onion” regarding the bill’s true costs. “There are fundamental things that are being changed.”

In favor of the bill’s passage was Chair Joe Joe Nguyen, D-White Center, who sponsored a striking amendment making certain changes to the bill. However, among the provisions still remaining allows large utility providers to cease offering natural gas to existing customers and replace it with “any approved non-emitting energy” sources, which would include renewable natural gas.

“We as Washington state need to be partners in a thoughtful way in terms of achieving not just our climate goals but ensuring that our residents have the best options available to them,” Nguyen said. “We need to be able to have the flexibility to consider all the opportunities that are available to us.”

The revised bill is still opposed by the Building Industry Association of Washington. In a statement, BIAW Executive Vice President Greg Lane wrote that “legislators say they care about both housing costs and rental costs, but ignore the effects this bill will have on Washington families. Not only will all existing natural gas customers, including renters, have to pay higher energy bills, under this bill, homeowners relying on natural gas may have to tear out their gas appliances, rewire their homes to carry the higher energy load and pay for new electric appliances at costs more than $50,000 total. We continue to fight for the rights of natural gas customers in Washington.”

HB 1589 first cleared the House in a 52-45 vote. It has yet to be referred to another committee.

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