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Backers optimistic about energy choice initiatives chances of making the ballot

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(The Center Square) – With a July 5 deadline for gathering signatures just two-and-a-half weeks away, a backer of Initiative 2066 to repeal provisions of a new state law meant to hasten Puget Sound Energy’s transition away from natural gas claims, “We are well in the game.

Greg Lane, executive vice president of I-2066 sponsor the Building Industry Association of Washington, told The Center Square, “We are tracking ahead of our modeling at this point.”

I-2066, which also bars cities and counties from prohibiting, penalizing or discouraging “the use of gas for any form of heating, or for uses related to any appliance or equipment, in any building,” is a response to House Bill 1589.

Passed by the Legislature this session, HB 1589 would ban natural gas, but only for future customers, and more specifically, only for future customers of Puget Sound Energy.

“The cost of transitioning your home from using natural gas to all electrical is anywhere from $40,000 to $70,000 depending on the number of appliances you have,” Lane said. “If you have to change out three or four appliances, you’re going to have to increase the electrical lines that go into your home as well as your electric box for your house, so the cost goes up and up.”

HB 1589 only applies to PSE at this point, as part of the Climate Commitment Act, Lane said, but he thinks that will change.

“The Legislature has been very clear that PSE is just the first step,” he said. “This will go statewide, and they’ll go after propane as well.”

According to PSE, the utility serves approximately 1.1 million electric customers and more than 900,000 natural gas customers in 10 counties across 6,000 square miles, primarily in the Puget Sound region of western Washington.

Backers of I-2066 were delayed several weeks in their signature-gathering efforts by a court challenge over the title of the measure. The legal hurdle was finally cleared one month ago as reported by The Center Square, giving supporters just over two months to gather signatures.

To get I-2066 on the ballot, supporters must submit signatures of at least 324,516 registered voters to the Secretary of State’s Office by 5 p.m. on July 5. It is recommended that at least 405,000 signatures be turned in to account for invalid signatures.

“It’s a good bill because it helps Washington move forward in this transition in a planning way over years to help people in this transition,” Gov. Jay Inslee said when signing HB 1589 into law. “I’m confident it will do that. The majority of legislators shared my view in this regard.”

BIAW argues the phase out of natural gas will soon translate to higher bills for PSE customers.

Inslee did not dispute that, but said any price increases would be temporary as renewable energy becomes more affordable.

Starting in 2025, utility companies may no longer offer customers rebates for purchasing natural gas equipment.

With the deadline for gathering signatures fast approaching, Lane said volunteers are working to get the signatures they’ve collected turned in.

“We actually have over 120,000 petitions on the street right now, and that’s just to volunteers,” Lane said. “We really need those turned in.”

The goal is to get 405,000 signatures.

“That’s 80,000 more than what we need to qualify, but that would put us in good shape for what the average validation rate is,” Lane explained. “It takes 325,000 valid signatures to qualify, but we want to have a cushion.”