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Energy policy in Washington

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Energy policy in Washington
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Quick facts
Energy department:
Washington State Energy Office
State population:
7 million
Per capita income:
Energy consumption
Total energy consumption:
2,080 trillion BTU[1][2]
Per capita energy consumption:
305 million BTU
Energy spending
Total state energy spending:
$27,124 million
Per capita energy spending:
Residential natural gas price:
$11.08 per thousand cubic foot
Residential electricity price:
8.70 cents per kWh
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Energy PolicyEnergy policy in the United StatesFracking in WashingtonEnergy and environmental news

Energy policy in Washington depends on geography, natural energy resources, how electricity is generated, how much energy consumers use, politics and the influence of groups such as environmental and industry organizations. Decisions by policymakers, such as state and local governments, utilities and regulatory agencies, affect all citizens economically and environmentally, and are generally geared toward providing reliable, affordable energy. The cost of energy affects not only home heating and electricity bills, and thus disposable income, but also economic growth, including jobs, investment and the cost of doing business in the state.

How energy is produced and consumed also has an impact on the environment and pollution. Energy policy in Washington, and many other states, focuses on decreasing emissions and dependence on fossil fuels by increasing energy efficiency and the use of renewable energy. As the infrastructure for producing and delivering renewable energy sources is not as advanced as it is for energy generation from traditional sources, these policies often require subsidies to make the produced energy affordable, and their effects are difficult to measure.

Energy policy involves trade-offs between providing an affordable, consistent energy supply on the one hand, and limiting pollution and protecting the environment, on the other. How states attempt to balance these two differs between states, and often boils down to costs to consumers versus costs to the environment. This article provides general energy information about the state as the context within which energy policy is made, as well as information about major legislation and public and private groups that play a role in setting energy policy in the state.

See also: Energy policy in the United States for more information on energy policy.
See also: Fracking in Washington

Energy overview

State facts

Below are quick facts about Washington’s energy climate.


  • is a net electricity exporter.
  • has no fossil fuels.
  • has renewable energy in the form of biomass, biofuels, hydropower and wind energy.
  • produces no ethanol.
  • leads the nation in electricity generation from renewable energy resources.
  • had the 10th most generation of electricity from wind energy in the U.S. as of 2013.[3]

In Washington

  • ten of the twelve largest power plants are hydropower facilities.
  • there is one nuclear plant.
  • electricity is the main source of energy used in home heating.
  • there is no crude oil production, yet it ranks sixth in the nation in crude oil refining capacity.
  • there were 23,563 alternative fueled vehicles in use during 2011.[3]

Available energy resources

Washington has no traditional energy resources such as oil, coal or natural gas. The last remaining coal mine in Washington ceased production in 2006. Washington imports petroleum from Canada and Alaska, coal from Wyoming and Montana, and natural gas from Canada.[3]

Washington produces about a quarter of the nation’s hydropower. The Grand Coulee Dam, located in Washington state, is the largest producer of hydroelectric energy in the United States. Even though Washington is not abundant in traditional energy resources they are a net exporter of electricity mainly due to their abundant renewable energy resources. Non-hydroelectric renewable energy sources accounted for less than ten percent of net electricity generation in Washington. However, the state usually ranks in the top 10 in electricity generation from these resources. Most of Washington's non-hydroelectric renewable generation comes from wind.[3]

Consumption and prices

Energy consumption in Washington
WA energy sector usage chart.png

     Transportation       Residential     Industrial       Commercial
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As shown on the pie chart in 2011, just more than one quarter of Washington’s energy use was for transportation, and just above one quarter in industry; the rest was used mostly in residential and commercial buildings--for heating, cooling, lighting and other functions. Most of the energy used in the state is in the form of hydroelectric energy, which constitutes about 60 percent of the total.[3]

Gasoline prices in Washington are generally above the national average.[5][6] According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) February 2014 report, the federal excise tax is 18.40 cents per gallon of gasoline and 24.40 cents/gallon of diesel fuel. In addition to that, Washington collects a total tax of 37.62 cents on every gallon of gasoline, diesel and gasohol fuel, which ranks it at the ninth highest in the United States.[7][8]

Comparisons tables

The table below compares Washington’s consumption and spending for energy, as well as prices for natural gas and electricity, and carbon emissions to those of Oregon, which has similar population, resources and consumption needs because of climate and geography. Also given are the U.S. averages and the state rankings. All rankings are from highest to lowest, so, for example:

  • Washington’s rank of 27th in carbon emissions means that carbon emissions are higher in Washington than in Oregon, which has a ranking of 38th.
  • Likewise, per capita income in Washington is higher than the national average, and much higher than in Oregon, which at 34th ranks 21 places behind Washington’s ranking of 13th in per capita income.
  • These two states are very similarly ranked on per capita spending and price of natural gas.
  • Per capita energy consumption in Oregon (at 39th) is somewhat lower than in Washington (at 29th).
  • Per capita spending in Washington is somewhat higher because it ranks 38th to Oregon’s ranking of 42nd.
Consumption and Expenditures Comparisons Summary
Type WashingtonOregonU.S. Figures
FigureU.S. Rank*FigureU.S. Rank*Totals
Population7 million133.9 million27313.9 million
Per Capita Income Average$45,41313$38,78634$42,693
Total Consumption2,080 trillion BTU161,014 trillion BTU3297,301 quadrillion BTU
Per Capita Energy Consumption305 million BTU29262 million BTU39312 million BTU
Total Spending on Energy$27,124 million17$14,941 million31$1,394,088 million
Per Capita Spending on Energy$3,97538$3,86342$4,474
Price of Residential Natural Gas, dollar per thousand cubic feet$11.0822$10.5526$12.48
Price of Electricity, cents per kWh8.705110.004112.31
Total Carbon Dioxide Emissions, million metric tons (2010)76.12740.3385,631
*Rank is from highest to lowest.
See also: State Energy Rankings to compare all 50 states
Consumption of energy for heating homes in Washington
Source Washington 2011 U.S. average 2011
Natural gas 35.5% 49.5%
Fuel oil 2.7% 6.5%
Electricity 53.5% 35.4%
Liquid Petroleum Gases (LPG) 3.1% 5%
Other/none 5.3% 3.6%

Production and transmission

Washington produced 1,101.9 trillion BTU of energy in 2011. Of that nearly 5 percent came from nuclear. The remaining 95 percent came from what the U.S. Energy Information Administration classifies as 'other,' which is "assumed to equal consumption of all renewable energies except biofuels."[9]

Energy production by type in Washington, 2011
Type Amount Generated
(trillion BTU)
% of State % of USA
Nuclear 50.3 4.56% 0.61%
Other 1,051.6 95.44% 14.76%

Electricity produced and consumed in Washington comes primarily from hydroelectric energy, which produces three fourths of the total. Nuclear, wind, natural gas, coal and biomass account for Washington's remaining generation. In Washington, net electricity generation exceeds consumption making the state an electricity exporter. Washington has no natural gas production, but instead imports natural gas from Canada.[3]

Where electricity comes from in Washington[10]
Type Amount generated (MWh) % of state** % of U.S.**
Petroleum-fired 3,000 0.04% 0.01%
Natural gas-fired 987,000 11.57% 0.1%
Coal-fired 737,000 8.64% 0.04%
Nuclear 814,000 9.54% 0.1%
Hydroelectric 5,288,000 61.96% 1.66%
Other renewables 657,000 7.7% 0.33%
Total net electricity generation 8,534,000 100% 0.21%
**Note: Because the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) does not include all of a state's energy production in these figures, the EIA totals do not equal 100 percent. Instead, we have generated our own percentages.

In Washington, the Utilities and Transportation Commission regulates the private, investor-owned natural gas and electric utilities in the state, of which there are five. These five include Avista Corporation, Cascade Natural Gas Corporation, Northwest Natural Gas Company, PacifiCorp and Puget Sound Energy.[11][12]

Energy policy

Policy Issues
Washington has one of the lowest electricity prices in the United States, most likely due to its hydropower resources. The state is also on track to reach its goal of 15 percent renewable energy by the year 2020.[13]
See also: Fracking in Washington

Energy policy is made, executed and influenced by many organizations, both public and private, and is codified in the laws and regulations of the state. Each state’s energy policy involves trade-offs in which energy production and prices are weighed against environmental concerns and efficiency. According to the “2013 State Energy Efficiency Scorecard” published by the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy (ACEEE), Washington ranks eighth in energy efficiency with a score of 33.5 out of 50.[14] There are differing estimates about the economic impact of these mandates in terms of costs that may affect prices and jobs, as well as the impact on the environment and pollution. Thus, for example, there are many new studies of what is called the "rebound effect" which refers to the fact that "some of the theoretically estimated gains in energy efficiency will be eroded as consumers consume additional goods and services."[15][16]

Washington is on track to reach its goal for renewable energy set by the state's Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard of 3 percent of electricity coming from renewables by 2012, 9 percent by 2016 and 15 percent by 2020. Despite the strong focus on renewable energy, Washington has some of the lowest electricity prices in the United States. These low prices are likely due to the abundance of hydroelectric power in the state.[17][18][19]

Major legislation

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State energy policy

State fracking policy

Energy policy terms

Fracking in the U.S.

Energy use in the U.S.

Energy policy in the U.S.

State environmental policy

Energy and Environmental News

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  • RCW § 19.29A.050, (2000) required that all of the retail electric suppliers in the state of Washington must disclose to customers the fuel mix details of their electricity generation. This must be provided annually in a standard format. Larger electric companies are required to release this information twice a year.[20]
  • EHB 2247, (2001) requires that utilities allow customers the ability to purchase renewable energy if they are serving more than 25,000 customers. Wind, solar, landfill gas, geothermal, wave or tidal action, wastewater treatment gas, fish-friendly hydropower and some biomass are among eligible renewables.[21]
  • RCW § 19.260.010, (2005) created minimum efficiency standards for twelve products. In May 2009, HB 1004 added several more products to the list. These products include personal wine chillers, hot water dispensers and mini-tank electric water heaters, bottle-type water dispensers, pool heaters, residential pool pumps and portable electric spas and commercial hot food holding cabinets. These standards are only for goods within the state and not for products manufactured in and sold outside of Washington.[22]
  • Energy Independence Act 19.285 RCW, (2006) established an energy efficiency resource standard. It implemented greater use of renewable energy and conservation through new requirements for electricity resources. It also requires all electric utilities serving more than 25,000 customers to participate in all cost-effective energy conservation.[23]

Energy policy ballot measures

Voting on Energy
Energy policy
Ballot Measures
By state
By year
Not on ballot
See also: Energy on the ballot and List of Washington ballot measures

Ballotpedia has tracked 12 ballot measures relating to state and local energy policy in Washington.

  1. Washington Bonds for Energy Efficiency Projects, Referendum 52 (2010)
  2. Washington Energy Conservation, Initiative 937 (2006)
  3. Washington Energy Conservation Financing, SJR 120 (1979)
  4. Washington Energy Conservation Funds for "Any Individual", SJR 112 (1983)
  5. Washington Extension of Energy Conservation Financing, HJR 4223 (1988)
  6. Washington Municipal Electricity, Initiative 52 (1924)
  7. Washington Municipal Energy, Referendum 18 (1934)
  8. Washington Public Energy, HJR 10 (1936)
  9. Washington Public Power Resources, Initiative 12 (1943)
  10. Washington Public Utility Districts, Initiative 1 (1930)
  11. Washington Surplus Municipal Energy, Referendum 3 (1924)
  12. Washington Voter Approval for Energy Project Bonds, Initiative 394 (1981)

Utility policy ballot measures

See also: Local utility tax and fees on the ballot

Ballotpedia has tracked no ballot measures relating to local utility tax and fees in Washington.

Government agencies and committees

  • The Washington State Energy Office seeks to provide the Governor, Legislature, Commerce Department and other decision makers within the state with energy information, analysis and policy support. According to their website, they "look at key energy issues including natural gas, alternative fuels, energy efficiency, renewable energy development, greenhouse gas emissions, energy supply, and price."[26]
  • The Washington Commerce Commission focuses on achieving more efficient, reliable, cost-effective energy for transportation, heating, and electricity. They report to have spent approximately $23 million on energy, which equates to nearly 6 percent of the state’s economy.[27]
  • The Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission is a three member state commission that works to ensure fair pricing, safe and reliable energy generation in the state. The commission regulates household movers, utilities, buses, railroads, and solid-waste carriers.[28]
  • The Bonneville Power Administration (BPA) is a pacific northwest-based federal nonprofit agency. The BPA is self-funding, using profits from their 31 federal hydropower projects in the Columbia River Basin as well as from their non-federal nuclear power plant and other power plants. It is, however, associated with the U.S. Department of Energy. BPA markets wholesale electrical power from 31 federal hydropower projects in the Columbia River Basin, one non-federal nuclear plant and several other small non-federal power plants. The BPA produces about one third of the electric power in the northwest.[29]
  • The Department of Natural Resources is responsible for environmental protection in the state. The head of this department, the Commissioner of Public Lands manages the Department of Natural Resources and serves as chair of the state Board of Natural Resources, which sets policy for state trust lands. Additionally the department manages aquatic lands, monitors cleanup and restoration efforts from mining operations, and is the largest fire department in the state.[30]

Major organizations

  • The Northwest Energy Efficiency Alliance (NEEA) was organized in 2002 to help the Northwestern market move towards economical energy efficiency. It is an alliance of more than one hundred utility and energy efficiency organizations.[31]
  • The Northwest Power and Conservation Council (NPCC) is in charge of resource planning in the Columbia River Basin which includes four states, including Washington. It is focusing on energy efficiency and conservation for meeting load growth and aims to address about 85 percent of all load growth through 2030.[32]
  • Solar Washington is a non-profit organization that works to advance the use of solar power in the state of Washington. It is "an association of solar energy equipment manufacturers, system integrators, distributors, dealers, designers, installers, consultants, students, teachers, and solar enthusiasts." They aim to educate people to promote development and use of solar and other renewable energy resources.[33]

In the news

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See also

External links


  1. These figures come from the U.S. Energy Information Administration State Profiles and Energy Estimates, Washington Overview. Statistics for population and per capita income are for the year 2012; consumption and spending estimates are for 2011; and prices are for October 2013.
  2. U.S. Energy Information Administration, “Washington Overview,” accessed February 21, 2014
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 3.5 U.S. Energy Information Administration, "Washington Profile Analysis," December 18, 2013
  4. This chart depicts the state's energy consumption as reported by the EIA for 2011. Click the image to enlarge.
  5., "Retail Price Chart," accessed March 4, 2014
  6. To compare current gasoline prices in Washington to the U.S averages go to
  7. U.S. Energy Information Administration, "Petroleum Marketing Monthly," February 2014," accessed February 21, 2014
  8. The Tax Foundation, "State Gasoline Tax Rates, 2009-2013," March 21, 2013
  9. U.S. Energy Information Administration, “State Energy Data System, Production,” accessed February 22, 2014
  10. These figures come from the EIA State Profiles and Energy Estimates U.S. Energy Information Administration, “Washington Overview,” accessed February 22, 2014
  11. Washington Utilities and Transportation Committee, "Companies We Regulate," accessed March 17, 2014
  12. Washington Utilities and Transportation Committee, "Utilities and Transportation Commission," accessed February 22, 2014
  13. Institute for Energy Research, "The Status of Renewable Energy Mandates in the States," accessed February 22, 2014
  14. American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy, “2013 State Energy Efficiency Scorecard,” accessed February 22, 2014
  15. International Risk Governance Council, "The Rebound Effect: Implications of Consumer Behavior for Robust Energy Policies," accessed March 3, 2014
  16. Scientific American, "How Bad Is the Rebound from Energy Efficiency Efforts?," May 21, 2013, accessed March 3, 2014
  17. According to a report called "The Status of Renewable Electricity Mandates in the States," by the free-market Institute for Energy Research, the cost of electricity in states with RPS were on average 38 percent higher in 2010 than in states without a RPS.
  18. Institute for Energy Research, "The Status of Renewable Electricity Mandates in the States," accessed March 24, 2014
  19. Manhattan Institute, "The High Cost of Renewable-Energy Mandates," February 2012
  20. Database of State Incentives for Renewable Energy, "Fuel Mix Disclosure," accessed February 22, 2014
  21. Database of State Incentives for Renewable Energy, "Mandatory Green Utility Option," accessed February 22, 2014
  22. Database of State Incentives for Renewable Energy, "Appliance and Equipment Energy Efficiency Standards," accessed February 22, 2014
  23. State Energy Efficiency Policy Database, "Washington Utility Policies," accessed February 22, 2014
  24. Washington State Senate, "Energy, Environment & Telecommunications," accessed March 17, 2014
  25. Washington House, "Environment," accessed March 17, 2014
  26. Department of Commerce, "Washington State Energy Office," accessed March 17, 2014
  27. "Department of Commerce", "Energy and Technology," accessed February 22, 2014
  28. Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission, "About the Commission," accessed April 8, 2014
  29. Bonneville Power Administration, "About Us," accessed February 21, 2014
  30. Washington Department of Natural Resources, " About," accessed December 28, 2012
  31. Northwest Energy Efficiency Alliance, "About NEEA," accessed February 21, 2014
  32. Northwest Power and Conservation Council, "About," accessed March 17, 2014
  33. Solar Washington, "Home," accessed February 22, 2014