Washington benefits from access to abundant low-cost energy, and its significant renewable energy resources, especially hydroelectric power, are major contributors to the state’s economy. Washington is the nation’s largest producer of hydroelectric power and is home to one of the largest hydroelectric power plants in the world. The Columbia River, second only to the Mississippi in volume of water flow among the nation’s rivers, enters Washington near the state’s northeastern corner and flows in an arc through the eastern half of the state. It forms much of the boundary between Washington and Oregon and drains all of eastern Washington and the western slopes of the Cascade Range south of Mt. Rainier. The river provides water for vast hydroelectric projects including the Grand Coulee Dam, the largest hydropower producer in the United States. The state’s climate ranges from the rainforest in the extreme western part of Washington, where the heaviest precipitation in the continental United States occurs, to near desert conditions in areas east of the Cascade Range. Crop residues from Washington’s agricultural areas in the east and those from the state’s western forests provide ample biomass resources, and many areas of the state are conducive to wind power development. The state has few fossil fuel resources, but it has the only crude oil refining capacity in the Pacific Northwest. Washington is also the only Pacific state other than California that generates nuclear power.
Washington in 2019, generated 78% of its electricity from carbon-free sources, including hydropower (62%), nuclear (8%), other renewable energy, mostly wind (8%) . Gas and coal make up the rest.
In May 2019, Gov. Jay Inslee signed a law requiring that 100 percent of the state’s electricity come from clean energy sources by 2045, becoming the 4th state to commit to entirely clean energy, following Hawaii, California and New Mexico (there are more now). The law also mandates structural changes to the way the state’s utilities do business, and includes bill reductions as well as weatherization, energy efficiency, and “direct customer ownership in distributed energy resources.” This measure required utilities to eliminate coal as an energy source by the end of 2025 as the first step toward the governor’s goal.
Inslee also signed a bill that seeks to make large commercial buildings more energy efficient. Another establishes new minimum efficiency and testing standards for certain appliances, including portable air conditioners, showerheads, and water coolers. In order to be sold in the state, several of the appliances covered under that law, including computers and computer monitors, must meet the state’s efficiency standards if they’re manufactured in or after 2021. Inslee also signed a measure that restores a sales tax break for electric vehicles.
Individual counties and cities within Washington are also moving to reduce their reliance on fossil fuels with the purpose of helping the state reach its 2045 goals:
- In 2019 Seattle’s Mayor Durkan issued an Executive order committing the city to new actions supporting the goals of Seattle’s Green New Deal, such as requiring all new or substantially altered municipal buildings operate without fossil fuels. By early 2021 she transmitted a proposedupdate to the energy code, further electrifying buildings using clean energy and restricting fossil fuels for most business use.
- In October, 2021, King Countyproposed changes to its building codesthat would ban new gas-based heating and water heating in some buildings
- In July 2021, Whatcom countybecame the first such jurisdiction in the US to ban new fossil fuel infrastructure, following a lengthy battle over the impact of oil refineries on the local community.
Washington endured triple digit temperatures in the summer of 2021 with Bellingham, hitting a high of 100F for the first time on record.
Disappointingly, Washington State voters rejected carbon-pricing proposals in 2016 and 2018.
Washington is one of twenty-four states, along with Puerto Rico, committed to the U.S. Climate Alliance, which is working to implement policies that advance the goals of the Paris Agreement.