Double Counting Renewable Energy Is Not Twice as Nice Under Washington’s Renewable Portfolio Standard

A state court judge has ruled that renewable energy credits can’t be sold and used by multiple utilities under Washington state's renewable portfolio standard.

Wind turbines near the Colombia River in Washington state.
Wind turbines near the Colombia River in Washington state. A new ruling by a state court judge determined that renewable energy credits can’t be sold and used by multiple utilities under Washington’s renewable portfolio standard. (JPL Designs/Shutterstock)

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Double counting of renewable energy has been defeated in Washington, along with one utility company’s “creative” interpretation of state law that would have allowed the organization to cut its commitment to clean energy in half, or more.

State laws known as “renewable portfolio standards” are one of the best tools we have to build a clean energy economy. Most require that local utilities supply their customers with increasing amounts of power from renewable sources over time, starting modestly but building momentum as time passes. More than half of the states in the U.S. have mandatory renewable portfolio standards. Other states have voluntary standards, with just a large handful of states lacking either. 

In Washington, voters opted to adopt a renewable portfolio standard in 2006. The law compels major utilities to supply Washingtonians with 15 percent renewable energy by the year 2020. The law has helped make Washington state a national leader in transitioning away from dirty fossil fuels.

In spring 2015, a local utility north of Seattle filed a lawsuit seeking an interpretation of the law that could have cut in half, or more, the amount of renewable energy the law requires. The utility asked the court to allow it to sell the renewable energy “credits” that it used to comply with the law to another utility, or to otherwise preserve its ability to use the same credits for its own compliance year after year. This interpretation of the law would have meant the same renewable energy could be counted multiple times under the law. 

If all renewable energy could be counted at least twice in this way, it would take half as much new renewable energy, or even less, for all utility companies in the state to come into compliance. That would mean a lot fewer wind farms and solar panels dotting our landscape, and a big step backward on our path to clean energy. Earthjustice, on behalf of our clean energy expert clients NW Energy Coalition and Renewable Northwest, intervened to defend the renewable portfolio law and explain the serious consequences of the utility’s lawsuit.

Fortunately, Snohomish County judge Millie Judge agreed with us, and rejected the lawsuit. Her decision will prohibit the type of double counting sought by the utility, preserving the full force of Washington’s clean energy targets. 

This victory comes on the heels of a recent Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals decision upholding Colorado’s renewable portfolio standard and news that Hawai’i has set a goal of using 100 percent renewable energy by the year 2045. State renewable portfolio standards are working, and Earthjustice will keep defending them, one state at a time.     

As a supervising senior attorney in the Washington, D.C., office, Anna’s work focuses on clean water issues.

Established in 1987, Earthjustice's Northwest Regional Office has been at the forefront of many of the most significant legal decisions safeguarding the Pacific Northwest’s imperiled species, ancient forests, and waterways.