The first week of a new legislative session is always full of surprises, except when it isn’t.

A new bill (HB 1812) proposes giving the Governor more authority through the Energy Facility Siting Evaluation Council, or EFSEC. EFSEC makes recommendations to the Governor for permitting and siting certain types of facilities considered to have statewide significance. Unfortunately, that siting authority comes at the cost of local government regulations. The power allows the Governor to approve siting permits even if the location or the facility violates the decisions of locally elected officials, local communities, and the GMA. This bill was proposed at the request of the Governor.

EFSEC was initially created to site nuclear power-generating infrastructure and high-capacity transmission lines. Since then, it has morphed into siting alternative energy projects of all sizes.

HB 1812 would make two significant changes to their current process. First, EFSEC’s role would expand to provide siting recommendations to the Governor for so-called clean energy product manufacturing. The bill defines clean energy product manufacturing as:

  • Facilities that exclusively or primarily manufacture vehicles that emit no exhaust gas other than water vapor
  • Charging and fueling infrastructure for zero-emission vehicles
  • Renewable or green electrolytic hydrogen
  • Clean fuel, equipment, and products used to produce energy from alternative energy sources and,
  • Energy storage equipment

With this new authority, the Governor could site these facilities anywhere in the state, regardless of the state’s planning framework parameters, including the GMA, and without regard for local planning decisions like land use and zoning controls.

The second significant change in the bill would limit public input into EFSEC’s review process. Currently, EFSEC must conduct a public hearing in the county of the proposed site to present the project. Another hearing is then required to determine whether the proposed site complies with local land use plans and zoning. The bill proposes to change the first hearing to a meeting, eliminating the opportunity for the public to comment on the project in general. Currently, the second hearing is limited only to comments on compatibility with local land-use rules.

Still, EFSEC must conduct another hearing before issuing a recommendation to the Governor. However, the bill adds new limitations to the hearing. Only those who raised an issue in writing during the application review before the hearing will be allowed to speak. EFSEC can further limit the hearing if the environmental impact of the proposed facility is not significant or will be mitigated to whether any land use plans or zoning ordinances with which the site is inconsistent should be preempted.

The changes to the hearings creating new limitations are ironic given the state’s emphasis on environmental justice and equity for overburdened communities.

This bill will be heard on January 21, in the House Committee on Environment & Energy, at 10:00 AM. It’s no surprise to say WSAC will be testifying in opposition.