Washington enacted a monumental clean energy bill this year, but it is not time to celebrate, state Rep. Joe Fitzgibbon (D-Seattle) said at a recent energy conference in Seattle.

Fitzgibbon and fellow Democrat, Sen. Reuven Carlyle, agreed transportation has to be the top priority for continuing to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in Washington.

Following on the passage of the Clean Energy Transformation Act in 2019—due in part to the leadership efforts of Fitzgibbon and Carlyle—there is growing commitment among lawmakers to seriously consider further laws and policies for Washington to meet emission-reductions goals of the 2015 Paris climate accord, Carlyle said Oct. 8 at the GridFWD 2019 conference.

The law, Senate Bill 5116, requires the state's more than 60 electric utilities to reduce and eventually eliminate fossil fuels from Washington's electric grid. The first utility milestone comes in 2022, when each utility must publish its own clean energy transformation plan (CU No. 1910 [16]).

Utilities must eliminate coal-fired electricity from their state portfolios by 2025. By 2030 they must be greenhouse gas-neutral, and by 2045 they must supply customers in the state with electricity from 100 percent renewables or non-GHG emitting resources with no offsets. CETA does include pressure valve policies, giving utilities flexibility in meeting the mandates, for example to ensure grid stability.

The bill was possible because political, economic and social forces inside and outside Olympia aligned to give the law enough momentum to pass, Carlyle said.

A failed effort to pass similar legislation in 2018 "showed the utility community that something was going to happen on this in 2019, and that it was better to work with us to get it right than to find something very difficult to implement," Fitzgibbon said.

Plenty of changes are coming in the energy sector in the next few years. PacifiCorp's integrated resource plan marks "a significant shift away from coal" and points to the amount of change coming, he said.

It is a good start, but "there is more to do for them to get to the 2030 and the 2045 standards," he said.

State agencies and the utility industry have to work together to broadly deploy new technologies to achieve CETA's aggressive goals, the lawmakers said.

While utilities work to implement new rules, lawmakers already are considering further GHG emissions reduction legislation.

Transportation is "where we have the most work to do," Fitzgibbon said.

His personal top priority is passing a low-carbon fuel standard, he said. He backed a low-carbon fuel standard bill that died in 2018 (CU No. 1835 [11]).

The standard should require "producers of transportation fuel either begin to decarbonize those fuels or acquire credits from those who have," he said.

"We're not going to be able to pat ourselves on the back for our greenhouse gas work unless we tackle transportation," Fitzgibbon said.

Contributing Editor

Dan has covered stories from Seattle to Tbilisi; spent time with the AP, Everett Daily Herald and Christian Science Monitor; and was twice a member of a team nominated for a Pulitzer Prize. He and his wife have three young children and live in Seattle.