The Washington Legislature used up every bit of its overtime session this month waiting until the final hours to pass a budget (operating and capital). In an active last day of session, Senate and House leadership agreed to a budget package that includes deep cuts in education and health services to low income people. Notably, the House and Senate agreed to a phased reduction in the state’s debt capacity limits, but not by constitutional amendment as had been sought by the Senate. A trimmed down capital budget compromise did include (Section 5011) $20M to continue grants for public K-12 schools to invest in energy efficiency projects. The Energy Operational Savings Project Grants will work in largely the same manner as the $100M provided in the last capital budget. Special thanks go to House Capital Budget Chair, Rep. Hans Dunshee, for his dogged commitment to getting these funds committed in a very difficult year.
The Washington Legislature also provided $5.5M appropriation for implementing some of the recommendations of the Clean Energy Leadership Council. These funds will be administered initially by the Department of Commerce and used as matching funds (NTE 50%) for projects that “integrate energy efficiency and renewable energy into buildings and integrate renewable energy into the regional electrical grid or advance bioenergy in the state.” The appropriation is dedicated to projects in which the majority of participating companies are based in Washington State and “represent a substantially new solution that is not widely available today.” In a related move, the Legislature also passed ESB 5764 (yet to be signed by the Governor) establishing a new entity, Innovate Washington. Largely assuming the duties of the Washington Technology Center and the SIRTI (Spokane), Innovate Washington’s mandate includes operationalizing the recommendations of the Clean Energy Leadership Council (editor’s note – does this mean the $5.5M will go from Commerce to Innovate Washington?). Innovate Washington will be governed by a Board of Directors that includes designees from the Governor’s Office, both political party caucuses in the Senate and House, the President’s offices at UW and WSU, as well as 7 members of the business community. Click here for more information on ESB 5764.
Meanwhile, the Oregon Legislature remains in session as it too struggles with significant budget woes. As reported on the NEEC blog some weeks ago, legislation to establish an energy performance disclosure requirement for residential and commercial buildings didn’t make it through the legislative wickets. Other NEEC legislative priorities remain in play however. First, it appears certain that there will be no successful legislation to alter the revenue or structure of the Energy Trust of Oregon. Numerous bills that proposed to do just that have died at committee cut-off dates. Governor John Kitzhaber’s schools priority legislation (dubbed “Cool Schools”) continues to evolve in size and structure. The basic idea continues to be to combine a number of existing funding streams into a coordinated financing pool that can offer attractive energy efficiency financing packages for public K-12 schools in the state. As with its counterpart legislative action in Washington, this Oregon initiative seeks to spread the work around the state, create new construction jobs in those communities, while at the same time providing guarantees that a school district will realize operational cost reductions. The idea has been easier to conceptualize than it has been to find language that can clear all the legislative hurdles. Watch the NEEC blog for updates over the next week on legislative progress.
The Oregon Business Energy Tax Credit (BETC) has been on a legislative roller coaster as well. A largely intact energy efficiency BETC has carefully ascended the legislative heights in the past few weeks, only to experience the ground rush of descent as the state’s updated revenue forecasts showed increasing weakness. Tax credits in Oregon – across the board – are screaming and clutching the safety handle with both hands. The last few days of legislative session will determine the continued viability – and magnitude – of the BETC. Stay tuned on the NEEC blog.