Groups back natural gas initiative

Signature-gathering efforts end July 5

PORT ANGELES — A coalition of industry groups is hoping to collect enough signatures to place an initiative repealing the state’s new regulations on natural gas on the November ballot.

Initiative 2066, sponsored by the Building Industry Association of Washington, would repeal certain provisions in a state law passed this year meant to hasten the state’s transition away from fossil fuels, in this case, natural gas.

The initiative also would undo changes made by the state Building Code Council last year that added significant costs to natural gas installation in new construction and certain remodels.

“While natural gas is not technically prohibited, customers who choose natural gas over electric appliances will pay three times as much, and massive additional costs will be required to include solar, windows and insulation not required for all-electric homes,” BIAW said in a statement.

Backers of the initiative have until July 5 to collect signatures from 324,516 registered voters, although the state recommends collecting 405,000 to allow for invalid signatures.

“Washington is a leader when it comes to environmental laws,” said Janelle Guthrie, communications director of BIAW. “We just don’t believe that removing natural gas is going to make enough of an impact to justify the impacts it will have on homeowners.”

Guthrie said the initiative would still allow builders and homeowners to choose electrical appliances but would keep natural gas and propane as an option for those who want them.

“When you make these changes by policy rather than the market, it creates an artificial inflation to the cost,” Guthrie said. “Rather than trying to prematurely move in that direction, let people move that way on their own.”

The initiative would amend portions of House Bill 1589, passed by the state Legislature in March, which directed the state’s largest utility, Puget Sound Energy, to begin a transition away from providing natural gas.

In a statement, PSE said the bill does not include a ban on natural gas or any rate increase but directs the utility to develop a plan for a transition to full electrification.

“There is no rate increase associated with HB 1589. It’s a planning bill, and there will be three years of rulemaking and work before we submit an integrated system plan to our regulators,” PSE said. “That will only be a plan — it will not include a request to increase rates.”

Nothing in the bill forces electrification, PSE said, but it does require the utility to develop a scenario demonstrating the costs of electrification that will be part of the integrated system plan submitted to regulators in 2027.

PSE does not serve the Peninsula, which has public utility districts in Clallam and Jefferson counties as well as municipal utilities.

The bill passed with narrow margins, and though it was largely supported by Democrats, the North Olympic Peninsula’s legislative delegation — state Reps. Mike Chapman of Port Angeles, Steve Tharinger of Port Townsend and Kevin Van de Wege of Lake Sutherland, all Democrats — voted against the bill.

Twenty-four states have passed legislation prohibiting state or local governments from banning or restricting natural gas.

In addition to BIAW, the initiative is backed by the Washington Hospitality Association, Associated General Contractors of Washington and the North Olympic Peninsula Builders Association, among other industry groups.

I-2066 is also being backed by Let’s Go Washington, which is backing three other initiatives for the November ballot.

Guthrie could not say how many signatures have been collected so far, but she said polling is showing a favorable response to the initiative. More than 120,000 petition booklets with space for 20 signatures each have been distributed statewide, she said.

Let’s Go Washington’s website provides a map of businesses carrying petition booklets, including locations in Port Angeles, Sequim and Discovery Bay.

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Reporter Peter Segall can be reached by email at peter.segall@peninsuladailynews.com.

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