Northwest NEWS

February 12, 2001


Federal action needed to help state efforts through power crisis

From the desk of Gov. Gary Locke
   As our West Coast power situation worsens, I've announced an energy supply alert and issued executive orders designed to make sure we protect our air quality while we generate enough electricity.
   Those executive orders follow up on a bipartisan set of bills that legislative leaders and I have drafted to address longer-term aspects of the problem.
   The bipartisan legislative package promotes conservation as an important element in getting through this crisis.
   The other highlights of the legislative package are increasing power production and protecting the state's most vulnerable citizens from price increases. I want to emphasize that conservation and clean air are at the heart of those bills and orders.
   For example, one of those orders requires state and local governments to cut their electric and natural gas usage by 10 percent over the next 90 days.
   That means they will have to turn out unnecessary lights at night, turn down the heat a little, shut down computers when they aren't being used and so on.
   Cutting energy use at peak times, 6:30 - 8:30 a.m. and 4-8 p.m. also is a key part of my order. I've also asked the citizens and businesses of our state to do the same. Conservation saves money now and saves the energy we will need later.
   Remember, water levels in some areas, such as Lake Roosevelt behind Grand Coulee Dam, are at 25-year lows. Even if we get normal rainfall for the rest of the winter, this year's mountain snow pack - which melts to feed our reservoirs in spring and summer - will be at 50 to 70 percent of normal.
   We also need that snow melt for fish. Another order allows utilities and private companies to use diesel engines for 30 days to generate power under strict environmental conditions.
   Those utilities and companies will have to offset the soot they emit from diesel generators. They can do that by investing in new programs that make our air cleaner than it is today. They can buy clean-burning autos and trucks, burn low-sulfur fuel or install pollution control equipment.
   The order also makes it possible for utilities and companies interested in using diesels to fire them up faster. But, as you know from the headlines, this energy crisis involves the whole West Coast. So it will take leadership and commitment at the regional and national levels to solve these energy problems.
   I'm working with other Western governors to do what we can to bring down energy costs and ensure an adequate supply of electricity. President Bush also has an important role. He and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, whose members he appoints, must institute West Coast-wide price controls on wholesale electricity.
   Not only are independent power producers making large sums of money from this energy crisis, but prices are driving up utility rates. These kinds of obscene prices stand to continue at the expense of the region through the summer and perhaps into the next year or two. As long as big profits can be made from the crisis, independent contractors have little incentive to build new plants.
   Even worse, the crisis provides incentives to shut down production to keep prices at exorbitant levels.
   All of us in the West are tied together by a power grid. This interconnection can help us as we move power where it is needed as the seasons change.
   But it also can hurt us. To get out of this situation, do everything you can do to conserve. And let the president and your congressional representatives know they have to do their part.
   Gary Locke is Governor of Washington.