The race for Mayor of Spokane has taken a strange turn. Not only have we learned that one candidate for Mayor refuses to believe the 97% of climate scientists whose research confirms that humans are the dominant cause of global warming, but in recent KXLY and KPBX interviews she advances the conspiracy theory that Avista has a secret, unrevealed “study” showing that Spokane’s 2018 climate ordinance and its goal of 100% renewable energy by 2030 would cost each ratepayer “thousands of dollars”.
There is no such study, and there never was.
So how did this conspiracy theory get started? In 2018 Spokane Mayor David Condon worked with Greater Spokane Incorporated and the discredited dark money Political Action Committee Better Spokane (run by City Council candidate Michael Cathcart) to attack the 100% renewable energy ordinance. Their letter to City Council said, “Back of the envelope estimates from some city officials indicate that the cost to the City budget could be over $20 million dollars.” At the time, City Council President Ben Stuckart debunked the claims in this letter, rightly asking who these mysterious city officials were – a question never answered.
Now some are trying to turn this suspicious, unattributed “back of the envelope estimate” into a “study.” What it is, in fact, is a flawed thought experiment that has no bearing on reality.
This tactic is a page out of the fossil fuels lobby playbook. All this talk of secret studies and hidden costs is simply meant to sow doubt and fear, but the facts tell a different story. In its 2017 Integrated Resource Plan to the Utilities and Transportation Commission, Avista shows wholesale electricity prices to be $35.93 per megawatt-hour, with wind at $31.81, and solar at $29.80. In the two years since, the price of these renewables has become even cheaper. Currently the most expensive electricity in our grid comes from dirty coal. And just this week, Spokane Public Radio reported that Avista’s Senior Vice President of Energy Resources, Jason Thackston, “has reason to believe renewable energy costs will be reduced in the future.”
What does this mean? It means that moving to renewable energy not only makes a cleaner, safer, healthier environment; it even saves ratepayers money!
It is important to note that a lot has happened in the past year. Avista has pledged to become completely carbon neutral by 2027, three years before the ordinance requires. Avista understands that adopting renewable energy policies is good business. Energy policy has changed at the state level as well. In the spring of 2019, the Washington state legislature passed the 100% clean energy bill (SB 5116) into law. This new statute requires every utility, including Avista, to produce net carbon neutral electricity by 2030 and 100% clean energy by 2045. Given the affordability of renewables, this will likely save ratepayers money, but as a protective measure the legislature included a cost cap to ensure there aren’t big cost increases. We should be proud of the fact that Spokane led the way and Olympia followed!
Let’s not let untruths and rumors distract us. We need leaders who understand the threat of climate disruption and who will help our community prepare for it.
-Dr. Brian Henning, Co-founder, 350 Spokane