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Friday, October 20, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Guest columnist

Initiative 937: Vote "yes" for a clean energy future

Special to The Times

Washington is blessed with some of the cheapest power and cleanest air in the nation for two reasons:

• Our history of long-term investment in renewable hydroelectricity;

• Our investments in energy conservation, which save Washingtonians hundreds of millions of dollars each year.

A "yes" vote on Initiative 937 is a vote to preserve this "renewable edge," a vote for a clean energy future. A "no" vote is a vote to abandon that renewable tradition in favor of coal.

I-937 will increase investments in energy conservation, making our homes more comfortable, our businesses more efficient, and our industries more competitive. It will deliver new, renewable energy sources like wind and solar. It will provide good new jobs in the clean-energy industries of the future. It will save consumers money by reducing energy waste and protecting against the rate shocks associated with volatile fossil-fuel markets.

But this clean-energy future won't be ours if we fail to vote "yes" on I-937. All over the West, developers are trying to site new coal plants in a hurry, while they still enjoy the political favor of a very friendly White House. Whom is that coal power for? Us. West Coast cities represent the bulk of the power demand.

Think of the irony: We are on the verge of taking delivery on a huge new load of coal to power the most technologically forward-looking economy on Earth. Given what we now know about the pace of climate disruption, signing up for these coal plants would be a bit like the famous scene in "Dr. Strangelove" in which Slim Pickens rides the nose cone of the nuclear bomb, hootin' and hollerin' all the way down.

The Times ("A mighty wind: vote 'no' on I-937" editorial, Sept. 24) could have warned us about this threat from coal, noting, for example, that a single large coal plant produces as much global-warming pollution as a million cars. But instead, it focused on a deliberate distraction — the issue of whether hydropower is considered "renewable." This is a tactic opponents use to confuse voters, because confusion is their only hope for defeating I-937.

So let's clear the air: Of course hydropower is renewable! But we've exhausted the region's hydropower potential. There just ain't no more to build. I-937 looks forward and asks a simple question: Do we want to continue our clean-energy tradition, or will we turn sharply toward fossilfuels?

Let's look at the economics of these choices. The conservation and renewable-resource goals of I-937 are drawn largely from the Northwest Power Plan — the comprehensive, least-cost energy analysis conducted by the Northwest Conservation and Power Council. It looks at a wide range of energy choices, to minimize both cost and risk. Unfortunately, however, there is no legal implementation mechanism for the plan.

Planning is good. But doing is better. I-937 is about doing.

The conservation provisions of I-937 will save consumers a bundle. Energy efficiency costs half as much as power from a new power plant. When utilities fail to invest in conservation, they are forcing consumers to pay double for dirtier energy. I-937 will prevent that.

Renewable energy is also economically attractive, for a simple reason: free fuel. Wind is already competitive with the cheapest fossil fuels. And the more renewables we use, the cheaper they are likely to get, because increasing production delivers economies of scale. The opposite is true with finite fossil fuels; greater demand drives higher prices.

The Times concluded with a patronizing pat on the head for consumers and citizens, calling I-937 a "lovely sounding thought," but too "complex." But the choice before the voters is really very simple. Either we invest in conservation and renewables or we become more dependent on coal and gas for electricity.

I-937 honors the many compromises that proponents hammered out with utilities during years of debate in the Legislature. That's why the Washington Public Utility Districts Association endorsed it. Now it's time to get it done.

We've been living off the wise renewable-power investments of our parents and grandparents for decades. Let's do as well for our kids and their kids, and pass I-937.

K.C. Golden is policy director for Climate Solutions, a regional group working on practical solutions to global warming. He is former energy policy director for the state of Washington.

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company

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