OLYMPIA… The Senate Environment, Energy and Technology Committee held a public hearing Tuesday morning on Senate Bill 5308, a bill that would add much-needed checks and balances to a program that helps local governments increase their energy efficiency.
Sen. Shelly Short, the bill’s sponsor, says that her proposal would create desperately needed transparency for construction and monitoring of these projects. When this program started during the Gregoire administration, the guidance for it began not as legislation but as a simple budget line in the capital budget.
Senate Bill 5308 was introduced in response to the significant ongoing challenges that Ferry County Memorial Hospital, in Republic, has had with its HVAC upgrade using this very state program that helps match local governments with energy service contractors. Ironically, this program requires the contractor to guarantee its work and perform verification monitoring. Unfortunately, absent additional guidance beyond the principles of general contracting, the program was ill-prepared to deal with a contractor who had no interest in fixing what was obviously not working.
“For the last several winters, the hospital and staff have struggled to endure unacceptable indoor temperatures, damage to hospital equipment and broken pipes all because the state’s program didn’t anticipate what might happen if a contractor didn’t want to fix it. The situation has been indefensible and immoral,” said Short. “An audit of the program is a must, but I also want to make sure that there is a better process in place to prevent this kind of problem in the future. I look forward to working with my Democratic colleagues in embracing the need to add these protective measures.”
David Iverson, a member of the Ferry County Hospital Board of Commissioners, testified on behalf of the bill.
“We are the only hospital in our county,” said Iverson. “What we’ve had to do in the last two years is really develop some unique plans and arrangements with neighbors. When the rooms got too cold, we had to ship our people out over one of several mountain passes, if there is room. And, bear in mind, the nearest hospital is a minimum of 45 miles away over at least one pass.”
SB 5308 would provide greater protection to municipalities by creating a complaint process through the state’s Department of Enterprise Services, better monitoring, more thorough consultation before energy efficiency equipment is installed and then independent verification once the project is complete. It would also require a Joint Legislative Audit and Review Committee Study to recommend additional reforms.