Climate agenda may cost you more than $20,000

Bill allowing Puget Sound Energy to propose phaseout of natural gas service is a bad idea that could spread statewide

Homeowners served by gas face a typical $40,000 expense to convert to electricity – yet HB 1589 will make no measurable difference to world climate. Credit: CC BY-SA 4.0/CARLOS534

The following op-ed appeared in the Cheney Free Press and other Eastern Washington weeklies March 8, 2024.

By Sen. Shelly Short

Eleven years ago, when we started debating the climate agenda in Olympia, I sat on a study committee we called the Climate Legislative Executive Workgroup and asked an unpopular question: How much good will these policies do, and how much will they cost?

How dare I ask a question like that? The fate of Mother Earth was at stake! No expense was too great.

Today we are starting to get an idea of the cost. How would you like to pay $20,000? How about $50,000 or more? This is how much individual homeowners could have to pay under a bill that passed the state Senate last week 27-22, allowing the state’s largest utility to start shutting off the gas.

House Bill 1589 will force the 900,000 Puget Sound Energy gas customers in Western Washington to junk their gas furnaces, water heaters and stoves and replace them with electric appliances. This affects only PSE customers, but it is just a matter of time before my Democratic colleagues figure out a way to force this on Avista and other utilities providing gas around the state.

As I write this on Monday, March 4, this bill has one more vote to go in the state House before we adjourn on Thursday. By the time you read this, it likely will be on the way to the governor’s desk, and we will be hearing much cheering from our Democratic colleagues about the good deed they have done for the people of the state.

This bill, the most consequential the Legislature will pass this year, will dramatically increase power costs and force homeowners to spend tens of thousands of dollars. New furnaces are just the start. Most homes built before 1960 have knob-and-tube wiring that must be replaced. Electrical panels and other equipment may not meet current code. The older your house, the more nightmarish the expense. PSE estimates the cost to residential customers will be somewhere between $7 to $10 billion.

This bill, passed at PSE’s request, insulates the state’s largest utility company from the horrendous cost of complying with impractical state goals for carbon reduction – by sticking it to the people they serve. Like most energy-policy bills, it is amazingly complicated. But it basically does two things.

It allows PSE to go to the state Utilities and Transportation Commission and propose that its gas-and-electricity businesses be combined. Thus PSE’s gas customers could be obligated to pay to maintain the current electrical system and the vast expenses that are contemplated for new “green” electricity in the future. The cost of gas service is expected to increase 150 percent. The bill also allows PSE to submit plans to phase out gas service, one community at a time.

We should use the word “allow” with a wink. PSE will propose it and regulators will approve it. We’ll start seeing the plans in 2027.

The bill changes the concept behind state utility regulation. Until now, it has been to promote efficiency while protecting customers from excessive costs. Under HB 1589, the goal becomes “decarbonization,” and the cost to end-users is a non-concern.

The effect on our state will be catastrophic. Some industrial processes can’t work without gas. Restaurateurs protest they will have to junk and replace their kitchens, and some dishes simply can’t be cooked on electric stoves. Any talk from our colleagues of promoting affordable housing has become laughable. Apartment rentals will continue to skyrocket.

It is hard to imagine that our electric grid will be able to handle the strain, as the state tries to push us into electric cars and environmental groups work to destroy the Snake River dams. During a cold snap last December, PSE told customers to turn down their thermostats to prevent a blackout. What could possibly go wrong?

The day before yesterday, we were telling everyone natural gas was the answer – cleaner than coal, cheaper than oil, the environmentally friendly way to heat our homes without overburdening the electric grid. That’s still true. It’s just that gas has now been demonized as a fossil fuel. What really bothered me, listening to the debate Friday night, were the speeches about how this will help save the planet. Any effect on world climate will be infinitesimal and unmeasurable.

This is what happens when policymakers declare no cost is too great. Homeowners, get ready to spend $20,000 to $50,000 or more for an empty gesture that will accomplish next-to-nothing.

Sen. Shelly Short, R-Addy, is floor leader for the Senate Republican Caucus.