I-937, Washington’s Energy Independence Act

A legacy of environmental and economic success. A strong foundation upon which to build.

The years since Washington voters passed I-937, the Energy Independence Act, prove one thing – Washington is prosperous because of its commitment to clean energy and the environment, not in spite of it.

All that we needed was enlightened policy that married Northwest values of good health and environmental stewardship with the entrepreneurial drive, and technical expertise that Washington has in abundance.

That’s what voters gave us in 2006 when they overcame years of legislative gridlock to pass an initiative creating Washington’s first-ever standards for renewable energy and energy efficiency. The new law gave clear direction to utilities, state regulators, and the people of Washington. As a result, today we enjoy a vibrant economy, America’s cleanest electric grid, and the most affordable electricity in the nation. We’re also creating new clean energy industries that provide thousands of jobs.

All of this would have been hard to imagine if you listened to the critics of I-937 as it came to a vote in the fall of 2006. They warned that behind a pleasant sounding name – the Energy Independence Act – there lurked a monster that would make electric rates skyrocket and destroy jobs as businesses and consumers struggled to pay ballooning utility bills.

“. . . the potential price increase to utilities, and therefore consumers, by 2020 could be nearly 75%. Using any reasonable rate of inflation on top of that, it is likely that energy costs will double by 2020 if initiative 937 us passed.”

—A Guide to Initiative 937
Washington Policy Center, October 2006

This nightmare scenario was largely based on a Washington Research Council brief titled “Initiative 937: Tilting Towards Windmills”, which predicted that passage would cause utility rates to increase between 4% and 8% costing Washington customers between $185 million and $370 million annually.

“Using the WRC-REMI model of the Washington state economy, we project that these 4 to 8 percent higher electricity prices would cost the state 2,100 to 5,100 jobs in 2016 and 3,600 to 7,100 jobs in 2020.”

—Initiative 937: Tilting at Windmills
Washington Research Council, August 2006

The reality, on the other hand, was altogether different. Washington utility prices grew so modestly that the state, which at the time I-937 passed, had the nation’s seventh lowest average retail price for electricity, soon ranked #1. And, in 2013, a state-commissioned study by the consulting firm, Leidos, determined that of all federal and state policies, I-937 had made the single greatest contribution to reducing greenhouse gases and would continue to make a major difference at least through the year 2050.

 Critics of I-937 were wrong about the law and Washington’s future for many reasons. They vastly underestimated the volume of wind and solar-generated energy that would soon be available as well as a corresponding plunge in costs. And they failed to anticipate huge improvements in energy efficiency, which slowed growth in the demand for electricity even as Washington’s economy expanded.
Evaluation of Approaches to Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions in Washington State – Final Report October 14, 2013

But mostly they failed to understand that forward-looking environmental policy that anticipates future needs – just as I-937 anticipated the importance of reducing greenhouse gas emissions – accelerates the pace of innovation and creates opportunities for Washington businesses and workers.

By the year 2020, the goals set out in I-937 will have all been achieved. Yet the need for climate action is more urgent than ever. The question is where do we go from here and will we show the same kind of foresight again?

See how I-937 appeared on the ballot and the arguments for and against