Fight over natural gas could be decided by new WA voter initiative

There is a new voter initiative in the works, and it’s a fight over natural gas.

Let’s Go Washington and the Building Industry Association of Washington are behind Initiative 2066. Let's Go Washington Founder Brian Heywood says despite the last minute move, his group is ready and motivated to gather the necessary signatures by July.

Heywood is no stranger to the initiative process. Using his own money, Heywood funded the signature gathering for six initiatives, and they all qualified for the November ballot.

Ultimately, that forced the legislature to adopt three of his initiatives into law, including an income tax ban, reversing restrictions on police pursuits and a parental bill of rights.

Three other initiatives not taken up by the legislature will end up on the ballot. If I-2066 makes it, it will be the fourth initiative from Heywood to get to voters.

I-2066 is hoping to push back on portions of HB 1589, a controversial decarbonization bill that narrowly passed the legislature this year.


Gov. Inslee signs controversial decarbonization bill

A bill that will eventually ban the use of natural gas in Washington has passed state legislature and was signed by Governor Jay Inslee on Thursday.

BWIA Executive Vice President Greg Lane says it’s not a repeal of all the components of HB 1589.  

"The initiative addresses only those portions of HB 1589 that result in the elimination of natural gas," Lane said.

Ever since HB 1589 passed, there has been a lot of confusion with critics quickly calling it a natural gas ban, and PSE later saying it's misinformation.  

The legislation only impacts PSE, the state’s largest utility company.

PSE tells FOX 13 that the measure does not ban natural gas for their customers.

The measure is all about giving them time to plan for the future.

 PSE has a deadline of January 1, 2027 to file an integrated gas and electric system.

 But the question is what happens after 2027. Are any of their 800,000 residential customers on natural gas forced to go electric?

We posed that question to PSE and they answered it this way:

"The enacted 1589 legislation does not require the utility or any of its customers to transition away from natural gas. It does require a multi-year planning process to ensure we are making the most cost effective investments to meet our customers’ growing needs for energy and their changing preferences – in 2023 natural gas use by residential consumers declined 7%, and it declined 3% for commercial customers."

Heywood believes it’s all semantics and he called it half-truths.

Heywood says it may not be a ban today or the near future but there is no question it’s a way to phase out current and future gas customers on a faster schedule after the planning process. 

The Clean Energy Transformation Act also mandates PSE get to zero carbon emissions by 2045 and Heywood says it’s not possible for PSE to meet those goals without shutting off natural gas.

BWIA also points to Section 3 in the language of HB 1589 itself.

"Achieve all cost-effective electrification of end uses currently served by natural gas identified through an assessment of alternatives to known and planned gas infrastructure projects, including non pipeline alternatives, rebates and incentives, and geographically targeted electrification."

Let’s Go Washington says they hope to get 420,000 signatures by July 5th.

If I-2066 qualifies for the ballot and voters pass the measure, it would cement that no government or any other entity can shut off natural gas. It will broadly protect Washingtonians and allow energy choice.

Heywood says the state can get to cleaner energy, but not on the backs of low and middle income Washingtonians and small businesses. Heywood says they will face big financial burdens if natural gas is cut off without a proper transition. He says rate hikes are inevitable if things are left unchallenged.

He believes the eventual cost of HB 1589 is not worth what he calls very small gains against carbon emissions on a global scale.

PSE emphasized that it’s a planning phase and that any rate hikes would have to go through a different process. 

"Any proposed rate changes undergo a review process of up to 11 months by our regulator, the Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission. They have the authority to set final rates that may vary from PSE’s request, either higher or lower or structured differently, depending on the results of their review."


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