SPOKANE, Wash. -Initiative 1631 is a controversial ballot measure that would charge a fee on carbon emissions from fossil fuels. In an email sent to customers Wednesday, Avista Utilities says the initiative will hit people the most in the wallet.
The initiative would charge large polluters an escalating fee on fossil fuel emissions starting at $15 per metric ton, making it the first direct carbon fee of its kind in the country.
However, critics are worried that the energy tax would force families and small businesses to pay billions of dollars in the form of higher gas prices and electric bills, ultimately costing consumers more than $2.3 billion in the first five years.
On Wednesday, Avista sent an email to their customers alerting them of the effect the initiative, if passed, would have on their bills.
For electric customers in the first year, they would see an increase of about $60, at the five year mark, $90, and at 15 years, $180. For natural gas customers in the first year, they would see an increase of about of about $60, then $110 at five years and more than $200 after 15 years.
Calling climate change a complicated issue, Avista says they have not taken a position on the measure, but wanted their customers to have all the information, saying, "While we understand the intent behind Initiative 1631, we feel that addressing climate change in a way that balances financial impacts and a desire to reduce greenhouse gas emissions is best addressed by the legislature."
Ultimately, however, the decision will be up to the voters.
We reached out to both sides of the issue.
Nick Abraham with Yes on 1631 says:
While we appreciate Avista's neutral position on I-1631 it's disappointing to see them misleading voters about the costs. I-1631 will invest in energy efficiency, home and business weatherization, and making clean energy more affordable for everyone in Washington. That's going to reduce costs for Avista customers while at the same time cleaning the air we breathe and water we drink. Groups like The Nature Conservancy, League of Women Voters, and American Lung Association support this policy because they know it will work to reduce pollution while at the same time protecting local communities.
Dana Bieber with No on 1631 says:
Public utility districts and electricity producers responsible for providing affordable energy to millions of individuals and businesses in every corner of Washington agree that I-1631 deserves a NO vote. I-1631 would result in increased energy prices, and those increases would be passed on to ratepayers.
The PUDs serving Benton, Clallam, Cowlitz, Lewis, Mason, Franklin, Grays Harbor, and Okanogan counties have all taken positions opposing I-1631.
The PUDs of Clark and Grant counties, along with Puget Sound Energy also looked at I-1631 and determined it would force rate increases as one way to deal with millions of dollars in increased annual costs resulting from the flaws in poorly written 1631.
And increased utility costs are only one aspect of the harm I-1631 would do to Washington families and small businesses.
A comprehensive analysis of 1631’s economic impacts concluded that the average Washington household would pay $440 more per year in the first year alone due to I-1631’s costs – and these cost impacts would increase every year automatically, rising to $990 per household within 15 years.
Estimates show gasoline prices would increase by up to 14 cents a gallon in the first year alone, rising every year under I-1631’s new energy tax. These increases would quadruple to 57 cents more per gallon within 15 years, with no limit on how high these increased could go.
In total, I-1631’s new energy tax would cost families and consumers $2.3 billion in the first five years alone, and would raise $30 billion by 2035. The text of I-1631 provides no specific plan for how those billions would have to be spent, but would hand the revenues over to an unelected board of political appointees to spend as they choose, even on programs that would not specifically reduce greenhouse gases.
And after billions of dollars in new energy taxes paid by families and small businesses to fund , I-1631 would leave 93% of state greenhouse gas emissions completely untouched.