Rejected amendments reveal lawmakers’ true priority on natural gas ban

Rejected amendments reveal lawmakers’ true priority on natural gas ban

The driving force behind Washington’s effective ban on natural gas was the Climate Commitment Act (CCA), passed in 2021. That bill set benchmarks for reductions in natural gas emissions so urgent and so onerous that it forced the state’s largest utility company, Puget Sound Energy (PSE), to effectively tell lawmakers, “Either let us shut down natural gas or adjust the standards in the CCA – you pick.”

The CCA requires Washington to have carbon emission levels “45% below 1990 levels by 2030, 70% below 1990 levels by 2040, and 95% below 1990 levels and net-zero carbon emissions by 2050,” according to the state Department of Ecology. For PSE, reaching these levels was a pretty daunting task while maintaining natural gas services for its roughly, 800,000 customers. 

When lawmakers passed and Gov. Inslee signed HB1589 into law on Mar. 28 of this year, they made their choice. They gave Canadian-owned PSE the ban it wanted – and left customers to foot the bill, in the form of both higher electricity prices (upwards of $200 more each month) and massive conversion costs to go from natural gas to all-electric. 

This graphic from the Building Industry Association of Washington demonstrates what this looks like: 

Based on an estimate from RSmeans Construction, Washington families would have to pay for repaving, neighborhood wiring, an air-source heat pump, an electric water heater, an electric fireplace, a transformer upgrade, an electrical panel, rewiring to home, wall demolition and repair, and an induction range. All told, in this estimate, it costs nearly $40,000. For many homeowners, it could be much higher. 

As it currently stands, HB1589 creates a tremendous amount of uncertainty for homeowners. The bill allows PSE to petition the state utility commission to discontinue natural gas service (which it will almost certainly approve) but homeowners don’t know when that will happen, how much warning they’ll receive, or what it’ll cost. If a tight window is provided between announcing shutting down service and it taking effect, the sudden spike in demand could force conversion costs to skyrocket. 

Lawmakers were directly presented an opportunity to offer protections for families and homeowners, with more than two dozen amendments offered by the minority party. Here are some examples:

  • Amendment 818 would have required PSE to “pay for any costs a residential, commercial, or industrial gas customer incurs as a result of transitioning from gas to nonemitting energy resources.” It was not approved. 
  • Amendment 840 would have prohibited “discontinuing gas service for any low-income customer.” It was not approved. 
  • Amendment 821 would have required “reasonable rate protections for all customers.” It was not approved.
  • Amendment 839 would have prohibited “discontinuing gas service for any restaurant.” It was not approved. 
  • Amendment 842 would have allowed customers to “request gas service from another utility if a large combination utility will not provide gas service.” It was not approved. 
  • Amendment 841 would require “at least eight years’ notice before transitioning a gas customer to a nonemitting energy resource.” It was not approved. 

Shortly after the natural gas ban was signed into law, Future 42 asked our audience how this bill will impact you. We heard back from hundreds of you, including a retired veteran who has recently converted to natural gas because it was the environmentally friendly thing to do (at least was earlier this year), a small business owner worried about the ban putting her restaurants out of business and her 150 employees out of work, and a retiree who will have to sell his home once the ban takes effect – a particular consequence we heard dozens of times over. 

This law is tremendously unpopular, and it’s not hard to see why. 

Worse yet, it could’ve been fixed, and for whatever reason, it was not.

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