updated 11/10/2006 10:32:09 AM ET 2006-11-10T15:32:09

Large utility companies will have to increase their renewable energy sources to 15 percent of their supply by 2020 under an initiative approved by Washington voters.

Under Initiative 937, utilities with more than 25,000 customers would have to meet 15 percent of their annual load with resources such as wind power, solar energy or sewage gas by 2020.

With about 65 percent of the expected vote counted Thursday, I-937 passed with about 52 percent of the vote, or 697,133 votes. About 48 percent, or 647,572, voted against the measure.

"The voters understood this was an opportunity to grab hold of our energy future and send a signal that renewable energy and energy conservation is the right choice for the future," said Bryan Flint, spokesman for the Yes on I-937 campaign.

Washington now joins 20 other states and the District of Columbia that have a so-called renewable portfolio standard or goal. Maine has the highest goal, at 30 percent. In 2004, Colorado was the first state to pass a ballot measure requiring an increase in renewable energy.

Under current Washington law, utilities are already required to offer customers the option of investing in renewable energy, by paying extra on their monthly bill.

Opponents say the measure is unnecessary, noting that hydroelectric dams produce as much as three-quarters of the region's relatively cheap and clean electricity.

A spokesman for the No on I-937 campaign did not return a call seeking comment.

Unlike a similar law in California, the initiative would not automatically count hydropower as renewable energy. Efficiency upgrades to existing hydropower plants will qualify.

Copyright 2006 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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