Best of the West: Governors get aggressive on housing; Capturing carbon credits from thin air; Historic investments in battery power; and Colorado’s first all-electric town

The Western Governors' Association keeps you updated on the latest news in the West. Here are the top stories for the week starting March 27, 2023. (Photos courtesy of Adobe Stock and The Idaho Statesman)

With home prices surpassing the dizzying heights of the 2008 housing bubble, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta, and rents climbing 8.8% in the last year, the largest year-to-year increase in 42 years, Western Governors demanded aggressive action from their respective legislatures this year to combat homelessness and increase the supply of affordable housing.

During her first ceremonial bill signing as Governor, Oregon Governor Tina Kotek signed two bills (House Bills 5019 and 2001), which will provide $200 million to help rehouse about 1,200 people currently without homes, prevent homelessness for more than 8,000 people and expand shelter capacity by 600 beds within one year’s time.

“This is just the beginning,” Governor Kotek said. “My recommended budget expands on the investments in this early session package – and I will continue to urge legislative action to deliver the ongoing support our communities need to make real progress.”

California Governor Gavin Newsom also announced a large funding package that will provide $736 million to the state’s Homekey program, which provides funding for local governments to build or purchase housing for individuals experiencing homelessness. To date, Homekey has created 12,774 permanent and interim homes through 210 projects across the state.

Other Governors have paired funding initiatives with tax incentivizes and zoning reforms in an attempt to invigorate the private sector.

With an estimated need for 41,000 units of affordable housing, the Utah Legislature is earmarked over $198 million in new money for affordable housing and homelessness initiatives. The state is also working on a bill to provide $10 million for the state’s affordable housing budget this year, which could be “leveraged” to build roughly 1,400 new units for low- to moderate-income Utahns, as well as a bill to increase the annual state low-income housing tax credit cap from $1.2 million to $10 million, and a bill to help streamline and standardize regulations to help make development more “predictable” while balancing city needs. 

Montana Governor Gianforte is working on a bill that would provide $115 million to the coal severance tax trust fund to be put toward housing for low- and middle-income Montanans, as well as a bill that would exempt Montana landlords from paying full property taxes if they rent their property below market value.

The Washington Legislature recently released a $69.5 billion budget, which earmarked over $700 million for affordable housing. That initiative would be funded via a voter-approved referendum that Governor Inslee proposed to allow the state to borrow $4 billion over a six-year period to build housing.

The Washington Legislature is also looking at a bill that would provide for more accessory dwelling units, duplexes, fourplexes, and other multi-unit housing in Washington cities with more than 25,000 people and streamline the permitting process for housing construction in urban growth areas.

Colorado Governor Jared Polis approved a similar package to prevent Colorado’s largest cities from limiting the construction of accessory-dwelling units, duplexes, and triplexes and require them to let multifamily units be built near transit centers.

Learn more about bipartisan housing strategies supported by the Western Governors in WGA’s policy resolution, Housing is Foundational to the Success of the West.

Capturing Carbon Credits: With a goal of becoming carbon negative by 2030, Microsoft agreed to purchase carbon removal credits from California-based startup CarbonCapture, which uses modular technology to draw CO2 from the ambient air so it can be stored underground. CarbonCapture is currently building a massive direct air capture plant in Wyoming where it will put this technology to the test.

“This agreement with CarbonCapture helps us move toward our carbon-negative goal, while also helping to catalyze the growth of the direct air capture industry as a whole,” Microsoft’s carbon removal portfolio director Phillip Goodman said. 

Battery Power: LG Energy Group announced plans to build a $5.5 billion battery-production complex in Arizona to meet the growing demand for electric vehicles – the largest battery-making investment in the U.S. to date, surpassing the $4 billion Panasonic battery plant in Kansas.

Evelution Energy also announced plans this week to build a solar-powered, carbon-neutral facility in Arizona to process cobalt sulfate for electric vehicle batteries. Once completed it will be the only cobalt processing facility in North America.

IRA Tax Credits: A new report from Rocky Mountain Institute looks at how states will financially benefit from clean energy tax credits in the Inflation Reduction Act. Wyoming, for example, could make over $12,000 per resident in tax incentives by 2030, or about $7 billion total. The report also details the number of jobs and the avoided negative health impacts that could be created by IRA investments.

Learn more about how states can leverage clean energy tax credits in the IRA by watching the latest installment of WGA’s Heat Beneath Our Feet webinar series.  

Colorado's First All-Electric Town: Crested Butte announced plans to be the first municipality in Colorado to be all-electric. Plans include updated building codes that require new buildings to be powered by electricity and grants to help residents pay for energy efficiency upgrades. 

The Gunnison City Council also signed an agreement with the Municipal Energy Agency of Nebraska (MEAN) — an electricity cooperative that provides energy to municipalities across four states including Colorado – that will make the city one of only three municipalities in Colorado to receive 100% of its electricity from renewable sources. As part of the agreement, the city council approved a 3% rate increase on electricity in the city, half of which will cover the costs of receiving carbon-free energy from the city’s power supplier. The remaining 1.4% will offset significant increases in material costs such as transformers, poles, and wire.

Monster Fish: Last week a fisherman broke a 13-year-old Idaho state record after landing a northern pike that Idaho Department of Fish and Game officials called “a true monster of a fish.” Thomas Francis was fishing on Hayden Lake, a popular pike spot north of Coeur d’Alene when he caught the 40.76-pound pike.

“I knew that wasn’t normal, and I could tell it was something special,” Francis said in the news release. “Suddenly I got slack line, as she was coming straight up from the bottom. She came flying out of the water, and it was obvious she was a huge fish.”

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