Following its neighboring West Coast states in California and Oregon, Washington has charted its own three decade path to decarbonization, mandated by the 2019 passage of a state law, Senate Bill (SB) 5116, ordering the retirement of all coal-fired power by 2025.

Named the Clean Energy Transformation Act (CETA), SB 5116 has resulted in four rulemakings so far by the Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission (UTC), which is charged with overseeing the state’s major energy utilities transforming to 100% carbon-neutral in 2030 and l00% carbon-free by 2045.

Under CETA, the state’s electric utilities have to fully transition to “renewable, nonemitting resources” over the next 25 years, and in the meantime develop and implement plans to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions or pay penalties for noncompliance. The law empowered the UTC to develop programs and rules for assuring that utility plans meet requirements of the law.

To safeguard future grid reliability, the UTC is also authorized to temporarily set aside utility GHG reduction requirements if the grid’s reliability or safety is compromised. Similarly, the law has requirements for preventing consumer electric utility bills from skyrocketing as part of the transition.

In two related areas, renewable natural gas (RNG) and electrification, the Washington legislature hasn’t taken any recent action, but the UTC  is developing a RNG policy statement and it has already articulated one on utility involvement pushing electric vehicles (EV).

The RNG policy addresses implementation of part of another 2019 state law, House Bill (HB) 1257 that calls for a series of changes for saving gas and using RNG, along with substantially improving the energy performance of commercial buildings, and making new commercial buildings ready for electric vehicle (EV) infrastructure.

HB 1257 “allows the gas utilities to incorporate RNG into the product they deliver to all customers, and requires them to develop an RNG program  that allows individual customers to voluntarily replace any portion of the fossil natural gas they receive with RNG,” said UTC spokesperson Emilie Brown.

Brown said the UTC currently has no “gas-to-electrification” policy, and state lawmakers have not passed a bill on the subject, but the UTC has articulated a 42-page policy statement concluding that the state’s major utilities “have a role to play in transforming the market for EVs.”

At this point the three-member regulatory panel believes there is no “right model” for utility involvement and for build-out of a fast-charging EV network, the utilities need to work with statewide and local planning organizations.

So far, the UTC has authorized Puget Sound Energy and Avista Utilities to launch pilot EV programs to assemble information about customer charging behavior and their demand for charging services. The regulators have called utility participation in transportation electrification “a new and evolving area of policy interest.”

Avista has submitted an electrification transportation plan to the UTC, but Brown noted that it is the only formal Utility filing so far for either electrification or RNG.