A windstorm swept through Washington last month, doing damage on both sides of the state. More than a half-million people lost power across the Puget Sound region when high winds came through after several days of rain, toppling trees in the waterlogged ground.
In the Spokane region, at least two people were killed by the historic storm and some neighborhoods were without power for many days. In Chelan County, the wind took down trees, as well, knocking out power and causing a rockslide.
Washington is no stranger to winter storms, but the blast served as a good reminder of the things we take for granted — lights that come on when we flip a switch, heat we control from a thermostat on the wall — or on our smartphones — and the value of a diverse energy mix.
As the state moves forward with efforts to reduce carbon emissions, it’s important to note the role that natural gas continues to play in Washington’s energy portfolio, especially during the coldest days of winter and the hottest summer days.
During last month’s storm, gas fireplaces and stoves continued to work, as they always do, even when electricity was out. During the coldest of days of the year, natural gas is an essential part of the energy system during peak demand days. And in the hottest days of summer, when California has experienced blackouts, Washington’s diverse mix of energy is equally important. Washington employers are committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and we know that energy sources such as wind and solar will continue making important gains in the years to come. But natural gas provides reliable and affordable energy whenever it’s needed, making it a valuable part of the energy mix.
Despite this, lawmakers are proposing bans on natural gas. House Bill 1084, introduced this year in the state Legislature, would ban natural gas in new construction and impose several layers of additional costs on the natural gas system, raising costs for all consumers in Washington.
A similar effort is under way in Seattle where the mayor has asked the Seattle City Council to ban natural gas in most new commercial and large multifamily building construction. It’s part of a nationwide push to ban natural gas in new construction.
The proposed bans are drawing opposition, including from some in California who say they amount to a regressive tax on low-and middle-income households.
These bans are particularly problematic when natural gas is often the only energy option for our state’s manufacturing sector.
Natural gas is also key to meeting the goals of Washington’s Clean Energy Transformation Act, passed in 2019. The continued use of natural gas to supply heating to buildings was a key part of the calculations on what make the bill’s goals possible.
Renewable energy is key to our state’s energy future, but we also need to ensure that natural gas remains affordable and available for our industries that have no other option and for customers who value the ability to choose what energy they use in their homes.
Our region is facing a shortfall of power adequacy and the solution to this is not to restrict and remove an entire fuel type, the use of which is supported by more 70% of residents in the Pacific Northwest. Population growth and growth of electric vehicles will only increase the need for additional electricity in our state.
We need to ensure that all options are on the table to continue to meet our state’s growing power needs —in the cold of winter, the heat of summer and in the midst of a windstorm.
Kris Johnson is president of the Association of Washington Business, the state’s chamber of commerce and manufacturers association.