Reinvigorating hydropower…at the state Capitol

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April 22, 2019

Dear Friends and Neighbors,

As a product of North Central Washington, I am extremely proud and thankful for our abundant, renewable hydropower. This clean energy resource is an integral part of not only the Pacific Northwest electricity grid, but also our own community history, economy, and culture. Decades ago, innovative leaders in our region had the bold vision and courage to construct numerous dams along the mid-Columbia River, creating opportunities for power generation, flood control, irrigation, fish hatcheries, park enhancements, and more.

Over the first half of my life, I lived in Chelan County. For the past 20 years, I have lived, worked, and been elected in Douglas County. I have gained an appreciation and understanding of both Chelan County PUD and Douglas County PUD over these years, and I’m proud to have been a “customer-owner” in both areas. We are also fortunate in the 12th District to have Grant County PUD and Okanogan County PUD serving the people. I like to use the term “customer-owner” because public utility districts were formed by the people they serve, and the customers are actually the owners of the assets. When the Legislature, therefore, is able to take actions that benefit PUDs, those results benefit you.

Speaker Chopp, Sen. Hawkins and others

Chelan County PUD General Manager Steve Wright, Rep. Mike Steele, Rep. Keith Goehner (not shown), and I discuss the issue of fair treatment for hydropower in Olympia with Speaker of the House Frank Chopp (right) and Rep. Gael Tarleton, chair of the House Finance Committee.

Seeking equal tax treatment for hydropower

Our state provides tax incentives to every form of renewable energy – including wind, solar, geothermal, biomass, tidal or wave energy, fuel cells – except hydropower. This results in our PUDs paying sales tax on every piece of equipment used at our hydroelectric facilities. I am working with our PUDs to ask our state, through my Senate Bill 6012, to extend the same tax treatment to hydropower as it does to these other clean energy sources. Our hydro system provides significant reliability benefits across the Pacific Northwest and supports other non-hydro clean energy sources, like wind and solar. Also, when our PUDs rebuild their hydroelectric generating units, it creates a significant number of family-wage jobs for our region and state.

I’m very pleased that the Senate Ways and Means Committee approved my bill last week. If this bill is approved this session, it will save our local PUDs and their customer-owners over $22 million during the 10 years’ length of the tax exemptions. Over 40 people turned out from across the state last week to attend the committee hearing in support of the bill. As SB 6012’s prime sponsor, I testified for the bill along with Chelan County PUD General Manager Steve Wright, the Washington PUD Association, and others.

Sen. Hawkins, Sen. Carlyle and Steve Wright

Senator Reuven Carlyle, chair of the Senate’s Energy, Environment and Technology Committee, and I discuss energy issues last fall with Chelan County PUD General Manager Steve Wright during a Rocky Reach Dam tour.

Renewable hydrogen bill signed into law

PUDs in Washington will soon have the authority to produce and sell a new type of clean energy as part of a bill I sponsored this year. Substitute Senate Bill 5588 authorizes PUDs to produce, distribute, and sell renewable hydrogen. Hydrogen can be created from a process that separates the oxygen molecule from water. SSB 5588 defines “renewable hydrogen” as hydrogen produced using renewable resources. This new law will allow our hydropower utilities to lead our state in another form of clean energy – renewable hydrogen. Our PUDs have been leaders in clean energy for decades, and this law will allow them to continue their positive and innovative work.

Wells Dam

Wells Hydroelectric Project, near Pateros, is owned and operated by Douglas PUD.

The Douglas County PUD, which requested the bill, plans to use electrolysis to separate hydrogen molecules from oxygen molecules in water to produce renewable hydrogen. Renewable hydrogen does not produce carbon emissions when it is produced or consumed. In the springtime, our hydro utilities have been experiencing difficulties when flows are high on the Columbia River and Northwest wind and solar facilities generate large amounts of power. Spilling excess water over our dams can adversely impact fish, and generating additional electricity in times of oversupply can hurt us economically. Douglas County PUD hopes to create hydrogen using its surplus electricity and then sell it. This bill opens the door to making that possible. The bipartisan legislation has 32 co-sponsors, including 16 Democrats and 16 Republicans.

SB 5588 bill signing photo

Gov. Jay Inslee congratulates me, Douglas County PUD and others at the bill signing for SB 5588, my “renewable hydrogen” bill. We were joined by company representatives from Toyota, members of the Renewable Hydrogen Alliance, and key legislators who supported the bill. 

Toyota executives bring hydrogen-powered vehicle to Capitol for signing of renewable hydrogen bill

Soon after the SSB 5588 bill signing ceremony was completed, Governor Inslee and I, along with other legislators, Douglas County PUD representatives, and clean energy advocates, visited with Toyota executives to learn about their Toyota Mirai, a hydrogen vehicle parked outside the Capitol Building. Other legislators and staff were able to test drive the car on the state Capitol Campus throughout the day.

Toyota Mirai

The Toyota Mirai is a zero emissions fuel cell electric car and only discharges water.

The people of North Central Washington have been innovative leaders in clean energy for decades. I am thankful to be in a position to help us reinvigorate hydropower at the state Capitol, advocate for equal tax treatment for our projects, and advance policies that will help us continue to lead in clean energy for many years.

Thank you again for the opportunity to serve as our state senator.



Brad Hawkins

State Senator Brad Hawkins
12th Legislative District


107 Newhouse Building - P.O. Box 40412 | Olympia, WA 98504-0412
(360) 786-7622 or Toll-free: (800) 562-6000