Commentary: Fossil fuel-free future for state is within sight

Edmonds has it right. And the state can take steps to move to 100 percent clean, renewable energy.

By Gail Gatton and Vlad Gutman-Britten

Last summer, Edmonds residents had reason to be especially proud when the city became the first in Washington state to commit to 100 percent renewable energy.

In a June resolution supporting the Paris agreement on climate change, the Edmonds City Council also approved amendments that require city-owned buildings be powered completely by renewable energy by 2019, and that city’s community electricity supply come from renewable sources by 2025. Now, nearly 400 cities and towns, including many across the Pacific Northwest, have made similar commitments to transition away from the use of the dirty fossil fuels, to a future powered by clean, renewable sources of energy.

Unchecked damage to our climate is affecting the quality of our lives and the health of our loved ones. The World Health Organization declared climate change the greatest threat to global health in the 21st century. It threatens our natural wonders, forests and delicate ecosystems — from our prized sagebrush shrub steppe ecosystem in Eastern Washington to the Salish Sea. And it adversely effects important economies, like our shellfish and tourism industries, which bring in hundreds of millions of dollars to the state every year.

Since we have relied on canaries in the coal mine, birds have always warned humans of danger. They’re warning us again. Audubon science shows more than half of our North American bird species are at risk from climate change. Of the roughly 500 species that call Washington home for some part of their life cycle, 189 of them are at risk from climate change. This includes the beloved Vaux’s Swifts that roost in the Wagner Elementary School chimney in Monroe each fall, on their long journey south for the winter.

Our Legislature has a historic opportunity to pass important policy, Senate Bill 6253, that establishes a clean, efficient, renewable energy standard and puts the whole state on a path toward 100 percent clean energy. This is not just an opportunity, it’s the Legislature’s collective duty. And the people want it! Polling shows 66 percent of likely voters support this policy, and nearly half of all respondents said they would be more likely to support their state legislator if they voted for this measure. In Snohomish County, that number is even higher, with more than 3 in 4 people demanding the state move in the direction of 100 percent clean power.

While utilities in other states must keep charging customers for ever more fossil fuels to run their generators, Washington utilities rely primarily on abundant and free water and wind. To lock in this kind of cheap, stable and clean power, this bill would remove coal power from our electricity mix by 2030 and set us on a path to zero-carbon electricity over the course of the next generation. Initial research shows that this policy would achieve an approximately 70 percent reduction in electricity-sector carbon emissions by 2035, and full decarbonization of Washington’s electricity sector, the second largest source of state emissions, by the 2040s.

Reducing carbon emissions is a key goal but doing so in an economically viable way is also essential. Research shows that every unit of clean electricity creates more jobs than fossil fuel power. This policy will help create thousands of homegrown, family wage jobs, especially in the electric sector. A clean energy transition will create long-term local economic growth and stabilize our electricity rates. That’s why we think this policy is a win for everyone — except fossil fuel giants.

A 100 percent clean electricity policy puts a stake in the ground and says we must get off fossil fuels to have a bright, clean future for ourselves and for our children. This bill is not prescriptive in defining our future energy path or technology mix, leaving space for utilities to take advantage of new and emerging technologies. At the same time, we know we must minimize the impacts of new hydroelectric and nuclear power, both of which can have unintended consequences for people and the environment. Fortunately, there are laws and permitting processes in place to make sure we have protections for these important concerns.

Passage of this bill will accelerate the path to a clean energy future for everyone, keep energy costs low, create new local jobs, and protect the state we love from future climate damage. That’s why labor, clean energy and conservation groups have joined together to promote this ambitious yet reachable goal of 100 percent clean power.

Tell your elected officials that you too want to see a 100 percent fossil-free future and immediate climate action taken. The time is now.

Gail Gatton is executive director of Audubon Washington. Vlad Gutman-Britten is the Washington director for Climate Solutions.

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