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Greenhouse gas emissions from electrical energy consumption

Why is this a priority?

After transportation the electricity sector was the second largest source of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions for Washington State in 2010. Consumption based (accounting for imported and exported electricity) electric sector emissions were 20.9 million metric tons (MMT), or 21.5 percent of total emissions. The pie chart visually portrays the source of emissions within the electric sector. The measure target of 16.9 million metric tons per year by 2020 is the electricity sector’s proportionate share of the GHG emission target established by the Washington State Legislature in 2007, returning Washington State to 1990 emission levels.

How are we doing?

Electric sector GHG emissions vary significantly (+/- 25%) from year-to-year depending on the production of hydroelectricity which is highly dependent on the snowpack amounts. The severity of the winter (electric heating load) and the price of natural gas or coal (fuel switching for thermal electric generation) can also add to annual variability. Commerce has adopted a smoothing technique to compensate for annual variability of this metric. The smoothing technique consists of a three-year trailing average approach, which means year 2010 would consist of the average of 2008, 2009 and 2010. The three year trailing averages for 2010, 2011 and 2012 are 19.9, 18.8 and 17.3 MMT respectively, so this measure is currently on track.

What are we working on?

Washington State has several approaches to reduce electric sector GHG emissions:

  • The Energy Independence Act (EIA or I-937) was passed by voters in 2005 and calls for larger state electric utilities (25,000+ customers) to get 15% of their electricity from new renewable resources by 2020 and acquire all cost-effective electricity conservation and efficiency.
  • State law limits the rate of GHG emissions from fossil fueled power plants (RCW 80.80).
  • The 2011 agreement between the state and TransAlta reduces and ultimately phases out electricity production at the coal-fired Centralia Generation Station by 2025.
  • Working to achieve the statutory requirement of a 70% efficiency improvement in new buildings by 2030 via updates to the state energy code.
  • Working with the state’s electric utilities to help them transition off coal-fired electricity sources.
  • Continue efforts to help decrease the acquisition cost of new renewable generation through more efficient siting and permitting.
  • The Utilities and Transportation Commission has developed new policies (decoupling) that removes disincentives for utility investment in energy efficiency.
  • Commerce is working to develop better mechanisms to disclose energy use to citizens and businesses so they can make more informed efficiency decisions and investment.
  • Commerce is working on ways to expand financing for energy efficiency through such mechanisms as on–bill financing/payment.