Last year, Gov. Jay Inslee attempted an end run around the Legislature by banning natural gas in new homes and commercial buildings via the state’s building codes. It was a bad idea. Now, some fellow Democrats who control the Legislature are working on legislation trying to do the same — also a bad idea.
Inslee’s proposed regulations forbid the use of fossil fuels for heating and hot water in new structures. Prohibiting natural gas is expensive for home and building owners, many of whom installed energy efficient natural gas heat pumps and tank-less water heaters.
The state’s diverse energy portfolio — which includes hydro, wind, solar, nuclear and natural gas — has helped Washington’s economy grow into one of the strongest in the country, according to Association of Washington Business environment director Peter Godlewski.
“But legislation under consideration in the Legislature would restrict the use of natural gas in Washington, raising concern among employers about their ability to compete. And efforts to restrict natural gas could drive up energy costs for consumers and businesses in a time of rising inflation,” Godlewski added.
Natural gas provides 15 percent of our state’s electricity, and provides critical baseload power during the coldest, darkest and hottest days of the year. It, along with hydro, nuclear and coal, supplement inconsistent renewables such as wind and solar.
Switching from natural gas to electricity is complicated and will impact everyone. Natural gas dependency is widespread. More than 95 percent of our everyday products are derived from or powered by natural gas.
With reference to Washington, Rep. Mary Dye (R-Pomeroy) added: “It’s a big industry because it provides warmth for about 1.2 million residences, there’s 107,000 commercial buildings and 3,500 industrial buildings that are working under clean, efficient, reliable natural gas.”
For example, one-third of Clark Public Utilities electricity is generated at the River Road natural gas-fired generating plant. Clark PUD provides power to more than 203,000 customers in Vancouver and throughout Clark County.
Puget Sound Energy is our state’s largest energy utility providing electric power to more than one million customers. PSE also generates one-third of its electricity at nine natural gas-fired power plants.
At present, electricity is affordable in Washington. But adding natural gas replacement costs is extremely expensive and will drive power rates higher for families, medical facilities, schools, factories and businesses in a time when inflation is rampant.
In 2019, Washington had the fourth-lowest average electricity retail prices in the nation, while 56 percent of the state’s households used electricity as their primary home heating fuel. Getting to total electricity dependency is difficult especially if the Lower Snake River dams are breached.
While natural gas electrical generation is important, natural gas availability is vital to some smaller communities. For example, the cities of Enumclaw and Ellensburg are the natural gas providers to nearly 9,000 customers.
Renewable natural gas (RNG) from farms, garbage landfills and waste conversion systems feed gas into the current pipeline system. That gas would otherwise be released into the atmosphere.
Switching to cleaner burning natural gas has improved our air quality.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released its new Inventory of U.S. Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Sinks. It shows that annual greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) from the natural gas distribution system declined 69 percent from 1990 to 2019. During this same period, natural gas utility companies added more than 788,000 miles of pipeline to serve 21 million more customers.
The good news is the backlash. Opponents to banning natural gas helped pass laws in four states — Arizona, Louisiana, Oklahoma and Tennessee. Washington should do the same to keep our economy competitive and provide our families with affordable and reliable energy.
Don C. Brunell is a business analyst, writer and columnist. He retired as president of the Association of Washington Business, the state’s oldest and largest business organization, and lives in Vancouver. He can be contacted at theBrunells@msn.com.