Why Enumclaw natural gas will be getting so expensive | In Focus

The Climate Commitment Act requires utilities and businesses to “buy” C02 emission allowances, driving up the price of energy.

If you just got your utility bill in the mail, you know your natural gas rates will be increasing 23% on Nov. 1.

According to the letter from the City of Enumclaw, “In 2021 the Washington Legislature passed the Climate Commitment Act (CCA) with the intent to establish a cap-and-invest program to reduce carbon pollution and achieve greenhouse gas (GHG) limits set in state law. This program requires natural gas distribution companies to offset carbon emissions produced through the sale of natural gas.”

The problem is not reducing carbon emissions. The problem is that since Enumclaw is one of the two cities (Ellensburg is the other) in Washington state that has its own natural gas utility, the residents and businesses are going to bear the very high cost of buying those carbon credits. The city has to raise $1 million to do so. If the city fails to purchase them, they will be fined at four times the rate, or $4 million.

I spoke with City Administrator Chris Searcy via email about this issue. He stated: “Certain industries are much less affected, such as those labeled Energy Intensive Trade Exposed (EITE).” The City of Enumclaw claims it used less than 25,000 metric tons of natural gas between 2015 and 2019 — the period in which Ecology is supposed to determine what utilities and businesses will be covered by the bill. The city did use more than 25,000 metric tons in 2021.

No proof or documentation has been provided to the city to explain its decision. In its July 15 letter to the Department of Ecology, the city asked for a code citation of the proposed rule clarifying the City of Enumclaw’s being subject to the costs of the program, “Ecology could not give a specific code section. They would only state that “Ecology has determined under plane [sic] language, CoE [the City of Enumclaw] is covered under the rule.”

In other words, Enumclaw natural gas users will have to pay the 23% rate increase. The message from Ecology’s comment is that residents of Enumclaw are being steamrolled into paying higher rates with no legal basis. This ruling comes across as arrogant and lacking empathy.

For the average gas utility resident, the additional cost for CCA compliance (as compared to 2022) will be $131 in 2023, $161 in 2024, rising to $338 by 2030. This is not cumulative.

For low-income senior citizens, the rate increase will start at $135 in 2023 and rise to $348 by 2030.

For the 500 or so (mainly small) businesses in the city, the rate increase will be $564 in 2023, rising to $1454 by 2030.

“… The City of Enumclaw Natural Gas Utility does not have a choice regarding participation in the program, and the increase in rates does not have anything to do with the cost of gas supply or the cost of distribution,” reads a city letter to utility users.

For at least a decade, PSE has been trying to conserve energy so they don’t have to build more power plants. I asked administrator Searcy what impacts a shift of customers [from natural gas] to electricity would have on them? His answer was “This is a question for PSE, but I will say that state energy policy has performed a complete 180 from about 15 years ago when customers were being incentivized to switch from electric to gas for water heating.”

My wife and I have a gas furnace and we bought a gas fireplace and a tankless gas water heater so we could keep warm during power outages and conserve electricity. Will we have to convert to propane? When I asked Administrator Searcy whether propane was less polluting, I was told it’s about the same as natural gas.

When I asked who will pay the cost of conversion from natural gas to PSE electricity for individual homeowners and businesses, Searcy responded, “It is still unclear what the funding received by the NG [natural gas] utility from auction sales must/can be used for. It is simply too soon to know if these funds must be used for the benefit of private parties through electric conversion. If they are to be used for electrification it certainly brings up equity concerns with everyone paying the higher gas rates and perhaps a select few having their conversion to electric paid for by the government.”

There are a lot of unanswered questions about the impact of the CCA, but Searcy’s quote sums up the city’s position: “we’re not quite sure, but we’re doing our best.”

In the meantime, expect to pay higher natural gas bills.