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Washington state's renewable portfolio standard extended

Washington's state legislature has approved two bills intended to improve the state's Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS), according to US law firm Stoel Rives.

 By Kari Williamson

Governor Christine Gregoire signed one bill on 7 March (ESSB 5575), and the second (SSB 6414) is awaiting her signature.

ESSB 5575 expands the types of biomass energy sources eligible under the state RPS.

SSB 6414 would provide a process to obtain advisory opinions on project eligibility under the 2006 Energy Independence Act (I-937), which requires electric utilities in Washington to obtain the following percentages of their electricity from eligible renewable resources:

  • At least 3% by 2012,
  • At least 9% by 2015,
  • At least 15% by 2020.

Under the I-937, the following biomass sources were eligible: animal waste; solid organic fuel from wood (subject to certain exclusions), forest or field residues; and dedicated energy crops. The ESSB 5575 expands the definition to include the following biomass sources:

  • Organic by-products of pulping and the wood manufacturing process such as black liquor
  • Untreated wooden demolition or construction debris
  • Yard waste
  • Food waste and food processing residuals
  • Animal manure (replacing the term "animal waste")
  • Liquors derived from algae

The legislation also creates a new category – qualified biomass energy – which will enable some existing facilities that were excluded from generating qualified renewable energy under I-937 to generate qualifying renewable energy beginning 1 January, 2016.

Changes from SSB 6414

With passage of this bill, project proponents and consumer-owned qualifying utilities will be able to seek advisory opinions from Commerce on whether proposed electric generation projects or conservation resources would qualify under I-937.

The legislation provides that Commerce must consider various sources of information, including opinions issued by the I-937 Technical Working Groups and comments from interested parties, including staff of the requesting utility. Commerce must also give priority to any application that previously received an affirmative advisory opinion from the I-937 Technical Working Group.

Modest but favourable

While the changes introduced by the two bills are modest, they are favourable to both existing industries and developers of new projects, Stoel Rives says.

Even with these changes, Washington's RPS's top requirement of 15% lags significantly behind California's RPS, which requires utilities to meet a 33% standard by 2020. This is driving more growth in California's renewable market by creating premium value for developers.

Notably, California's programme requirements largely exclude out-of-state renewable energy projects from qualification, which prevents the large majority of Washington projects from selling into the attractive market.

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