Washington needs a competitive energy market
Last updated 1/5/2022 at 11:11am
Washington motorists have choices when it comes to fueling their vehicles, thanks to the free market – but the benefits of competition, beginning with cost and quality, aren’t consistently available throughout our state’s energy sector. Reliable and affordable home energy continues to be a challenge for Washington, including locally. During the last summer’s heatwave, for example, thousands of customers in the Spokane area were victims of blackouts that were intentional – outages that were deliberately engineered to deal with new peak demand that put an enormous amount of strain on the electrical grid. This is a clear indication that it is time to change the way we look at energy.
Amazingly, the Spokane City Council recently suggested placing bans on the ability for citizens to utilize energy sources such as natural gas. They are not alone; similar ideas are being considered across the state. Instead of taking options off the table, especially with winter in full effect, why not support an “all of the above” approach? The path toward a more efficient energy grid is undoubtedly going to take time, but in the short-term, we must continue to take advantage of all energy generating resources if we want to maintain reliability and affordability.
That is the approach I have taken in the past and will continue to take in the future. I have supported measures to count more of Washington’s clean hydropower as renewable, consider tax incentives to expand Washington’s use of carbon-free nuclear power, support greater use of hydrogen power and advance new technologies such geothermal energy exploration and small modular reactor (SMR) technology.
It has been equally important to oppose cap-and-tax schemes and other regulatory burdens that will only add to the cost of gas home heating, food and other necessities by raising the cost of energy on middle class families and small businesses.
Consumers should have the option to choose from a large array of energy options, based on what meets their needs. The state Legislature should not jump the gun and start banning energy sources, especially without the existing capacity to replace them. That will not only hurt our energy reliability but will raise ratepayers’ energy prices.
Reliability means keeping the lights, central heating and air conditioning on, especially during prolonged heatwaves or frigid temperatures. In order to promote and ensure reliability, our state must not only continue to allow utilities to utilize all available energy sources – including Washington’s robust hydropower resources – but also be able to draw from a diverse pool of energy resources when emergencies occur. That is what a competitive, wholesale power market would allow.
As the landscape changes, many states are looking to competition to increase consumer choices and drive costs down. For example, power companies, lawmakers, organized labor and environmental groups just launched a study group to review all possible options and benefits for energy competition.
Across the country, competitive markets provide lower prices than markets that allow utilities to have monopolies. According to a report by the Retail Energy Supply Association, customers in states where monopolies prevail saw average energy prices increase by nearly 19 percent from 2008 to 2017. Alternatively, prices in competitive markets dropped by 7 percent.
Moreover, an all-of-the-above approach makes it more likely to effectively achieve our renewable energy goals realistically, by taking into consideration current consumer demands. If we want a model that will drive investment and innovation, we won’t get there by limiting choices and stifling exploration. Throughout history, competition is the path to advances in technology that produce new solutions – in renewable energy, for instance.
Back in June, a bipartisan group of former federal regulators urged the current Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to expand organized wholesale power markets across the U.S., citing higher levels of renewable energy investments. “More than 80% of renewable generation has been deployed in competitive market regions and emissions are falling faster in such regions,” the letter stated.
In recent years, the majority side in the state Legislature has tried to gain more control over the energy choices available to the people of Washington. When lawmakers meet in 2022, they should instead look at the benefits of integrating a competitive market, rather than arbitrary mandates that will do nothing to solve our long-term energy challenges or meet reliability demands. In fact, arbitrary mandates will likely make things worse. Competition will bring Washingtonians lower energy costs, addressing short and long-term reliability issues, and will aid us in meeting our future energy demands.
Sen. Mike Padden, R-Spokane Valley, represents the 4th Legislative District. For more information, visit http://www.senatormikepadden.org.