Washington, unplugged

 

WASHINGTON

The Bonneville Power Administration, which supplies almost half of Washington's electricity, recently announced that it won't be able to meet demand over the next five years and may be forced to increase its wholesale power rates 60 percent during the same period. Washington Gov. Gary Locke has a plan that could save the day.

On Jan. 24, Locke announced a $7 million package designed to encourage energy efficiency, conservation, and diversification of the state's energy supplies, primarily through tax incentives. By 2011, Locke wants utilities to generate at least 10 percent of their power using wind, solar, geothermal or biomass energy. The package also encourages industrial power users, like aluminum smelters, to build natural gas-fired generators and produce their own power. Individual consumers will be exempt from sales tax on energy-efficient lighting and appliances, and utilities that supply reduced-rate power and gas to low-income Washingtonians will also receive tax credits.

Locke "is doing some great stuff for conservation," says Mark Glyde of the Northwest Energy Coalition, but he and other critics want the governor to push utilities to invest more in conservation. Major power users also have mixed views of the plan. "Every bit of encouragement helps when it comes to government incentives for new generating capacity," says Scott Lamb, spokesman for Kaiser Aluminum, but he notes that the company has "a lot of questions" about the practicality of building its own gas-fired powerplants when natural gas prices are so high.

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