Commerce releases 2021 state energy strategy for a carbon-free clean energy future

Comprehensive plan details the policies necessary to reduce greenhouse gas pollution, grow the clean energy economy and ensure competitive energy prices

The Washington State Department of Commerce today released the 2021 State Energy Strategy, identifying a comprehensive set of policies and actions to ensure competitive energy prices, foster a clean energy economy, and meet the state’s science-based greenhouse gas reduction limits.

“Governor Inslee and the Legislature have established Washington state as a leader in the global transition to a clean energy economy. This strategy offers a blueprint for how, by 2050, we can nearly eliminate the use of climate-threatening fossil fuels while continuing to maintain and grow a prosperous economy,” said Commerce Director Lisa Brown.

In 2020, based on the latest scientific evidence, the Legislature enacted statewide greenhouse gas limits that require a 45 percent reduction in emissions by 2030 and a 95 percent reduction by 2050. To meet these requirements, Washington must virtually eliminate the use of fossil fuels by 2050. The 2021 State Energy Strategy uses these limits as the baseline for policies to reduce emissions from coal, petroleum, and natural gas used for energy in homes, commercial buildings, industry, transportation and electric power generation.

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This graphic shows overall historical emission rates as well as projected emission rates among different sectors assuming a transition to clean electricity. Source: Washington State Department of Ecology for historical emissions (2018 value is preliminary). Appendix A — Deep Decarbonization Pathways Modeling Technical Report, December 11, 2020 (p. 26).

“Since the 2008 recession, Washington has decoupled its economy from fossil fuels. We expanded our economy five times faster than our fossil fuel consumption. Now we need to take the next steps to remove fossil fuels and add energy efficiency and clean energy. It will take decades, which is why it needs to start now,” said Dr. Brown.

The strategy identifies a need for rapid investment in the electric power generation and transmission system, electric heat pumps in homes and businesses, and replacements for gasoline-powered cars and trucks. Washington needs to improve its planning and accountability, particularly in the transportation sector, and it needs to work with other states to reduce emissions in the industrial sector, according to the strategy.

Photo showing wind turbines on a hill overlooking the Columbia River
Wind turbines in Goldendale, WA. Credit: Clean Energy Transition Institute

The strategy also calls for Washington to establish a clean fuel standard and adopt a policy of universal access to broadband Internet service. A clean fuel standard is a market-based mechanism to shift transportation from gasoline and diesel to electricity and biofuels. Universal broadband access reduces transportation demand and emissions and enables new technologies to manage energy use.

The 2021 State Energy Strategy also emphasizes the importance of an equitable transition, which requires public investment to support clean energy projects serving low-income communities and reduce industrial and transportation-related pollution.

The last state energy strategy was issued in 2012. Commerce developed the 2021 State Energy Strategy with input from a 27-member advisory committee made up of legislators, government officials, and representatives of civic organizations, energy and utility businesses, and public interest advocates. Submitted to Gov. Jay Inslee and the Washington Legislature, the strategy does not have any legal effect without further action.

Experts used state-of-the-art modeling tools, and sophisticated, data-driven analysis to develop the following key findings:

Transportation makes up 45% of the state’s 2018 emissions. Washington must embrace electrification of as many passenger, truck and freight vehicles as possible; focus on immediate infrastructure investment; and develop incentives and land use plans to reduce miles traveled and increase other modes of transport, such as transit, cycling and walking.

Buildings, with 23% of the state’s emissions, require a 10-year market transition from fossil gas to electrification in heating, cooling and cooking, combined with deep levels of efficiency measures for new and existing buildings.

Electricity, at 16% of the state’s emissions, must be 100% clean by 2030 and must roughly double in output by 2050. Ensuring reliability requires the state to expand transmission capacity and renewable generation; develop smart, distributed resources and grids; and strengthen market mechanisms to ensure resource adequacy and efficiency.

Industry must be a focus of policy makers to reduce emissions where possible; develop green hydrogen, clean fuels and carbon capture; work with existing businesses to mitigate and leverage the impacts of the clean energy transition; and foster a clean energy workforce.

Graphic showing recommendations for energy policy in communities, transportation, buildings, and industry

“The strategy takes a bold step forward in its commitment to involve communities and workers to further develop the implementation actions necessary to fulfill the equity principles and workforce goals set out by the Legislature,” said Nancy Hirsh, co-chair of the Washington State Energy Strategy Advisory Committee and Executive Director of NW Energy Coalition. “Much work remains to address historical inequities and bring real benefits and opportunities to those harmed by the energy system and those struggling under a heavy energy cost burden. I am optimistic the strategy will help chart the course to a cleaner, more equitable and reliable energy future for all Washingtonians.”

“As it is implemented, the State Energy Strategy will touch on every corner of the state and many aspects of people’s lives. Creating a thriving decarbonized economy that benefits the entire state and does not leave any communities behind is an awesome challenge. Washington has the opportunity to demonstrate that it can be done with a careful, thoughtful and interconnected strategy that harnesses our state’s substantial human and natural resources to put it at the forefront of innovation,” said Reeves Clippard, co-chair of the Washington State Energy Strategy Advisory Committee. Reeves also chairs the Executive Committee of the CleanTech Alliance and is Chief Executive Officer of A&R Solar.

Details are available on Commerce’s Energy Strategy webpage. 2021 State Energy Strategy — Washington State Department of Commerce

Wonk talk: Sophisticated energy and economic modeling fuels state energy strategy

If you want a sophisticated energy plan that considers the complex tradeoffs among different policies, you need sophisticated data analysis. Because the links between energy policy and economic impacts are important to understand, Commerce brought in leading-edge data analysts to help guide development of the state energy strategy.

The energy modeling uses a “deep decarbonization pathways” approach. The model considers all of the energy-producing and energy-consuming activities among different sectors, then identifies least-cost pathways to specified emissions limits over time. This approach helps identify the tradeoffs across sectors. Is it more effective to reduce emissions in transportation or in buildings? Should we pursue wind powered resources in Montana or solar resources in Washington? It also helps decision-makers understand where there may be some uncertainty. For example, how quickly can we feasibly expect a transition to battery electric vehicles? The modeling provides decision-makers multiple scenarios that all achieve the specified emissions limits, but use different combinations of energy resources and have different tradeoffs.

In the economic impact analysis, the results of the energy modeling about future energy costs and technologies are used to project how Washington’s economy would change as it transitions from fossil fuels to clean energy. The economic modeling uses a macroeconomic model developed by Regional Economic Models, Inc. (REMI). The REMI model accounts for all of the economic activity in the region and projects the effect on employment and income if the state spends more money on clean energy investments and less money on fossil fuels imported from other states and countries. REMI identifies employment and output effects at the county level and for a wide range of industry sectors and occupation types.

The modeling work was coordinated by the Clean Energy Transition Institute, a Seattle-based independent, nonprofit organization. Evolved Energy Research performed the energy modeling, and FTI Consulting performed the economic impact analysis. Learn more here.

Watch the press briefing on the 2021 State Energy Strategy held on Jan. 8.

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Washington State Department of Commerce official news and information. Our mission is to strengthen communities in our state.

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