Washington State has the second cleanest electricity grid in the entire country. We rank just behind Vermont in the latest state-by-state comparison of who has the least carbon-intensive electricity supply. Even better, Washington has the nation's most affordable commercial electricity. These advantages are due in no small part to our state's abundant hydroelectric resources.

Our unique electric grid creates a singular opportunity for our state to achieve carbon reduction policy that complements vigorous economic growth.

The graph below shows the fuel mix of every state's electric grid. The source data represents the year 2014. BTU are represented in trillions.

Notice that Washington State has the highest portion of hydro-generated electricity and relatively minimal reliance on coal. Fossil fuels make up the majority of electricity generation in most states, but not in WA. 

Also worth noting is that Washington State is the country's largest net exporter of electricity. On the net we exported 25.7 trillion BTU in electricity in 2014. That amount is equal to 2.4 percent of the total consumed by residents. 

The majority (54.5%) of carbon emissions in Washington come from transportation via the consumption of gasoline and diesel in on road vehicles. Compare this to the national landscape, where a mere 33 percent of emissions come from transportation, and the electric sector takes up more then twice as large a portion.

The availability of low cost clean electric fuel in Washington State is a critical asset to grow the economy and reduce the state's overall carbon emissions. It’s the reason a company might locate energy-intensive activities here instead of a state like Kentucky or West Virginia where the grid is much dirtier. It's also the reason why choosing an electric vehicle or transit option pays extra carbon reduction benefits in Washington State. Leveraging our electric assets is smart entrepreneurial business. And it can be smart government policy. Washington’s unique grid creates an opportunity to reduce carbon in other sectors that are not as clean, such as transportation.

The electricity we use in our homes and businesses can also power cars, boats, and trains with lower carbon emission than gasoline or diesel. These conversions can be cost effective. However, moving the market requires collaboration by multiple parties — utilities, regulators, businesses and private investors.

Leveraging breakthrough technology can help turbopower progress. Electric motor vehicles use 80% less energy than those powered by combustion motors, and virtually eliminate health-harming pollutants and carbon. Now plug them into our predominantly hydro-sourced grid, with the lowest carbon emission in the US, and presto, we have the rarest of political assets -- a silver bullet.

It’s a silver bullet that really flies. An internal combustion vehicle would have to get 383 MPG to achieve the same greenhouse gas reduction benefits as an EV charged in Washington.

Bills that incentivize electric vehicle adoption also help grow jobs. Electric fuel purchases from Washington utilities generate 6 times more in-state jobs than sales of fossil fuels.

 

RECOMMENDATION

Electrify Transportation & Expand use of Low Carbon Fuels

 

Amend utility regulations to enable them to provide incentives encouraging adoption of electric vehicles and charging infrastructure. Implement time-of-use electricity rates. The definition of “energy conservation” should be broadened to include the conservation of electricity and oil. Standards are needed to evaluate fuels and technologies for their carbon reduction benefits, with subsidies and compliance credits awarded accordingly. Natural gas should be evaluated fairly with other advanced fuels, not singularly discouraged. 

 

Washington has the second "cleanest" electric grid in the United States. In this instance, a "clean" electric system is defined as the grid which is least carbon-intensive (i.e., the lowest number of kilograms of energy-related carbon dioxide per million BTU).

RECOMMENDATION

Leverage Washington’s Natural Advantage in Clean, Affordable Electricity.

State law should recognize the ratepayer interest in shifting carbon intense activities to clean electric power. To encourage investment in grid enhancement, integration of intermittent renewable energy, and reductions in transportation and industrial sector emissions, the state should adopt technology-neutral standards which account for the whole range of utility investments that reduce carbon. 

Unlike the country as a whole, Washington’s largest source of emissions is the transportation sector. The state’s low-cost, hydro-based grid provides a unique and leverageable asset to reduce carbon emissions across all sectors. The clean grid supercharges the environmental benefits of electric vehicle adoption and enables energy-intensive industries to do business with a lower carbon footprint than in other states. Washington has improved its carbon competitiveness at a rate rate of 3.5% each year over the past five recorded years, placing it at seventh best in the U.S. at growing its economy while simultaneously lowering emissions. 

Learn more about the PLAN Washington approach to environmental policy.