Spokane Journal of Business

Guest Commentary: Washington should avoid Sweden’s haste in carbon ban

Pulling the plug …

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Sweden and Washington state are very similar. Both have strong “green” movements and are quickly moving to eliminate all carbon-emitting fuels from cars and power plants. The caution for Washington’s elected officials is not to mandate hastily programs that have significant unintended consequences such as has happened recently in Sweden.

Washington and Sweden are working aggressively to put more electric vehicles on the road. Transportation is Washington state’s largest source of greenhouse gas emissions.

Last session, our Legislature reinstated the sales tax rebate on new electric vehicles. Electric car buyers are rebated up to $2,500 on new electric vehicles that cost less than $45,000. Washington state has a goal of registering 50,000 plug-in electric vehicles by 2020.

Volvo, headquartered in Gothenburg, announced that every car it makes from 2019 forward will have an electric motor, marking the historic end of cars that only have an internal combustion engine. That means a Volvo will either be a hybrid or battery operated.

However, when it comes to generating electricity in Sweden, there is a significant glitch. In their quest to end immediately carbon-emitting coal, natural gas, and biofuels which generate a small, but vital, amount of its electricity, lawmakers passed a three-fold tax increase on those fuels. Reuters reports the tax hike makes them unprofitable to produce power and some utilities say they will halt or cut power production.

Sweden, a nation with just over 10 million people, gets most of its electricity from hydro, nuclear, and wind power. About 10 percent is still generated in combined heat and power plants that mostly use biofuels, but some older facilities still burn coal or gas.

Meanwhile, because of urbanization, demand for electricity in Swedish cities is starting to outgrow capacity, and some utilities are forced to refuse new connections to avoid blackouts. Reuters reported a bread factory in Malmo was denied a license to expand because it would consume too much power.

Hydro supplies 68% of Washington’s electricity, while coal and natural gas add 24%. Combined nuclear, wind, and solar generation account for 7%.

Here’s the point: Well-thought-out strategies are important. For example, after a carefully negotiated agreement signed in 2011, coal-supplied electricity from the Centralia plant will begin to phase out next year and end in 2025. It provides adequate transition time.

Elected officials need to be measured in their deliberations and not act hastily to invoke edicts. Seemingly good spontaneous ideas often carry unintended consequences. That appears to be the case in Sweden with its three-fold increase in taxes on fossil fuels.

Just eliminating existing energy supplies without well-thought-out replacement strategies is a recipe for chaos. A better strategy includes developing new technology, which can be marketed in countries that are expanding their electric grids.


Don C. Brunell is a business analyst, writer and columnist. He recently retired as president of the Association of Washington Business and now lives in Vancouver, Washington. He can be contacted at theBrunells@msn.com.

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