Commentary: Clean electricity bill defends nature and nation

A veteran and bird watcher explains the importance of a clean-energy law passed by state lawmakers.

By Rick Taylor

For The Herald

A January 2019 report from the U.S. Department of Defense states, “the effects of a changing climate are a national security issue with potential impacts to (department) missions, operational plans and installations.” It goes on to report that more than two-thirds of the military’s operationally critical installations are threatened by climate change, citing recurrent flooding, drought and wildfires as primary concerns at the 79 installations included in the analysis.

As a retired military officer, grandfather and longtime member of the Pilchuck Audubon Society, I believe it is our civic duty to act now to prevent the rapidly accelerating impacts of climate change. One of the best ways we can make effective change is to pass statewide policies that eliminate the use of fossil fuels, the underlying cause of global warming.

The Washington state Senate and House have recently passed legislation that would transition the state’s entire electric grid to clean electricity, and the bill is now on its way to the governor’s desk. Under this bill, we would phase out the use of coal in our electric grid by 2030, resulting in a 100 percent carbon reduction for electricity by 2045. It would also invest in low-income communities to address historic energy inequities and inclusion of equity in the planning and acquisition of clean energy.

Renewable sources of electricity are more feasible than ever before because of a dramatic drop in the price of clean energy. Over the course of the last decade, clean energy resources like wind and solar have become cheaper than coal power and are now cost-competitive with “natural” gas. This trend is projected to continue, particularly given that wind and solar have no fuel costs while gas plants will forever be tied to the fluctuating cost of gas, two-thirds of which comes from the environmentally destructive process of hydraulic fracturing. Just this fall, Western Washington got a stark reminder of the cost, reliability issues, and shear danger of having an electricity grid reliant on fracked gas when a pipeline explosion in British Columbia almost led to region-wide power outages.

New demand-side and storage technologies are coming online to provide clean, affordable energy during the times it is most needed and address concerns about the reliability of our grid. Just last month, a Portland, Oregon-based utility announcedit would be building the largest pairing of wind, solar and battery storage in North America. Similar examples are emerging across the county with growing frequency.

Despite our reputation as a “green” state, Washington would not be the first to make this transition. In fact, we would be joining California, Hawaii and New Mexico, which have already passed laws setting up the transition to 100 percent clean electricity, and more than half a dozen other states are considering similar bills this year.

Major utilities are also seeing the benefits of going carbon-free. Idaho’s largest utility announced recently that it would eliminate its use of fossil fuels by 2045 and unveiled a new solar project that is likely to set a record low price for solar nationwide. As more jurisdictions commit to 100 percent clean electricity, the future of a clean, smart and affordable electric grid begins to come into view.

In 2014, a groundbreaking report published by scientists at the National Audubon Society found that shrinking and shifting migratory ranges caused by climate change could imperil nearly half of U.S. birds within this century. The same year, then-Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel called global warming a “threat multiplier because it has the potential to exacerbate many of the challenges we already confront today – from infectious disease to armed insurgencies – and to produce new challenges in the future. The loss of glaciers will strain water supplies in several areas of our hemisphere. Destruction and devastation from hurricanes can sow the seeds for instability. Droughts and crop failures can leave millions of people without any lifeline, and trigger waves of mass migration.”

As a veteran who has served to protect our country — and a bird lover who finds great joy in watching bald eagles soar overhead and spotting the iridescent glow of rufous hummingbirds — I know we cannot ignore the threat of climate change any longer. Not only do we have a moral responsibility to protect the people and creatures of this earth, but we must also protect the safety and security of our great country.

I applaud our state Reps. John Lovick, Jared Mead and all members of the House of Representatives and the Senate for passing this important piece of legislation.

Rick Taylor is a retired U.S. Army officer. He is a member of the Pilchuck Audubon Society.

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