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New Legislation, Guidance Targets a Green Energy Future in Washington


August 22, 2022  by  Leah LaCivita
Category:  Climate Change Energy Resources and Conservation New Legislation and Regulations

New Legislation, Guidance Targets a Green Energy Future in Washington

In addition to bills passed in this year’s Regular Legislative Session, Washington agencies have been busy developing standards to keep the state moving forward an its effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, promote clean energy adoption, and become carbon neutral. This blog will provide an overview of new statewide building codes, several pieces of legislation from 2022, and new guidance for electrical utilities.

New Building Codes Support Transition from Fossil Fuels to Electricity

This past April, the Washington State Building Code Council (Building Council) approved a new mandate (WSR 22-02-076) that places significant restrictions on the use of natural gas use in new commercial buildings, instead calling for a transition to appliances and HVAC (heating, ventilation, and air conditioning) equipment that can be powered by electricity, with restrictions beginning July 1, 2023. 

The mandate requires new commercial buildings and multifamily buildings four stories and taller be built with high-efficiency electric heat pumps, essentially banning HVAC systems that use fossil fuels or electric resistance (e.g., baseboard heaters, wall heaters, radiant heat systems). Exempted are large commercial buildings in Eastern Washington, which can use gas heating as a backup option, especially when extreme cold temperatures hit.

The mandate also requires that heat pumps be installed to take care of 50% (or more) of a building’s water heating needs, but it exempts hospitals, research facilities, and other buildings with “specific needs that cannot practicably be served by heat pumps.” Also exempted are large commercial buildings in eastern Washington, which can use gas heating as a backup option, especially when extreme cold temperatures hit.

The Building Council will consider similar proposals for smaller residential buildings later this year, according to Build ElectricWA and the Spokesman-Review.

In Washington State, homes and buildings have been the fastest-growing source of carbon pollution, and the new building code is projected to cut more than a million tons of carbon dioxide. Local governments that have passed measures to transition away from use of fossil fuels in buildings include SeattleShorelineBellinghamTacoma, and Olympia, though these measures were taken before the new mandate was announced.

Legislation Targets Reducing Greenhouse Gas Emissions from Buildings

In related news, effective June 9, 2022, SB 5722 adds another category of buildings to the Clean Buildings Act (which was passed in 2019 as HB 1257).

The Clean Buildings Act set energy management and building performance standards (codified at 19.27A.200 - 19.27A.240) for commercial buildings 50,000 square feet and larger. Under SB 5722, the Washington State Department of Commerce (Commerce) is tasked with adopting these building performance standards to “tier 2” covered buildings —which include multifamily, nonresidential, hotel, motel, and dormitory floor areas — that are greater than 20,000 square feet and less than 50,000 square feet. It also requires building owners to report compliance with these new rules beginning July 7, 2027.

In related news Commerce announced the Clean Energy Fund Building Electrification grant program, which will fund projects that “deploy and demonstrate grid-enabled, high-efficiency, all electric-buildings.” A total of $9.7 million is available for distribution, and eligible applicants include businesses, nonprofit organizations, local governments, Tribal governments, retail electric utilities, and individual owners of multifamily residential or commercial buildings. Commerce expects to open the program for applications this fall.

Moving Ahead on Transportation

Effective June 9, 2022, ESSB 5974 (or Move Ahead Washington) approves a package of transportation investments of almost $17 billion, including over $5 billion to be generated by the state’s Climate Commitment Act (CCA) emissions reduction funds.  It provides dedicated funding going forward: 24% to active transportation, including $146 million for the Complete Streets grant program.

The focus of these investments is to reduce carbon emissions through such diverse activities as transit support (including free transit for youth 18 and under), bike and pedestrian projects, electrification of ferries, high-speed rail projects, and more. In response to this legislation, transit agencies in King County and Kitsap County have already announced free transit programs for youth, and Spokane Transit is considering it.

ESSB 5974 also included a Complete Streets directive for Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) — see RCW 47.24.060 — that will affect all projects over $500,000. WSDOT must incorporate the principles of Complete Streets into facilities that provide street access with all users in mind (pedestrians, bicyclists, users of public transit) on projects to be constructed on state highways routed over city streets where the design phase of the project begins on or after July 1, 2022. See WSDOT’s Complete Streets webpage for more information.

According to a summary of ESSB 5974 from the Association of Washington Cities (AWC), transportation benefit districts (TBD) are now allowed to present for voter approval a 10-year extension of their TBD sales and use tax and an “additional 0.1% increase may also be added through councilmanic authority.”

Reducing Waste by Increasing Food Recovery

HB 1799 establishes a statewide program with a goal of reducing organic waste disposal 75% by 2030 and increasing the volume of edible food recovery 20% by 2025. The bill defines organic waste as manure, yard debris, food waste, food processing waste, wood waste, and garden waste.

Businesses that generate at least eight cubic yards of weekly organic waste weekly must collect it for composting instead of sending it to landfills — and these services must be in place by 2024. Businesses that generate at least four cubic yards of organic waste weekly must arrange for these services by 2025 and businesses that generate at least four cubic yards of solid waste weekly must do so by 2026.

Starting in 2027, local governments with 25,000 or more in population (those with 25,000 or less are exempt) will have to offer organics collection service either biweekly or at least 26 weeks per year. Per an AWC summary, “cities that have a collection requirement must also adopt a compost procurement ordinance consistent with the bill and RCW 43.19A.120.” 

Additionally, the law sets up incentive programs to encourage municipalities and farmers to use compost, expands funding to support farm usage of compost, establishes first-in-the-nation label and color standards for compostable products, updates liability standards for food donation, and creates the Washington Center for Sustainable Food Management.

In 2019, Washington set a goal to reduce food waste 50% by 2030 and the state’s Department of Ecology published the Use Food Well Washington plan in 2021.

Expanding Siting Laws to More Energy Projects

HB 1812 aims to modernize the Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council (EFSEC) to meet the state’s current carbon neutral goals, in part by making EFSEC an independent state agency that will coordinate the evaluation and licensing of certain energy facilities.

EFSEC was created in 1970 to centralize the siting and permitting for large energy projects such as utility-scale wind or solar installations. Effective June 30, 2022, the law expands EFSEC’s permitting abilities to include other facilities that can opt into the siting process, such as such as biofuel refineries, renewable hydrogen plants, electric vehicles (EV), and EV parts manufacturing and charging stations. The law also adds a preapplication step that should help to streamline the application review process.

Issuing Clarified CETA Guidance to Utilities

In early August, the Washington State Utilities and Transportation Commission (UTC) and Commerce announced jointly adopted rules that address several key requirements in the Clean Energy Transformation Act (CETA), passed in 2019 as ESSB 5116.

CETA requires electric utilities to source 100% of their electricity from renewable or non-carbon-emitting sources by 2045. The new rules will help ensure that utilities meet intermediate targets of eliminating use of fossil fuels by 2025 and transitioning to a greenhouse gas-neutral supply of electricity by 2030.

The new rules address when electric utilities buy and trade power and requires them to comply with CETA requirements. Under these rules utilities may use storage devices to manage supply and demand, and utilities are also tasked with accurately counting how much renewable energy they are providing. 

The UTC and Commerce have been working together since the passage of CETA to make sure that a set of common rules cover electric utilities across the state. The UTC rules apply to the investor-owned electric utilities operating in Washington (Puget Sound Energy, Avista, and PacifiCorp) while Commerce rules apply to municipal electric utilities, public electric utility districts, and rural electric cooperatives.


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About Leah LaCivita

Leah joined MRSC as a Communications Coordinator in the fall of 2016 and manages MRSC’s blog and webinar training program, in addition to developing website content.

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