Arrow-right Camera
The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Clean energy best for state

Renewable energy resources are an important part of Washington’s past, and are demonstrating new benefits that can positively shape our future economy, communities and environment.

Taxpayers deserve the truth about energy sources and policies that shape how they are used. All energy resources used in the United States are the result of policy, so as we continue to invest in energy and optimize efficiency, we must determine which resources deliver the greatest benefits.

Despite nearly a century of subsidies, fossil fuel costs are rising, as are fossil fuel industry profits, which posted multibillion dollar gains even during the recession. Renewable energy rates – on the other hand – are coming down despite the much briefer history and far lesser sum of government support they have received.

Polls show people want more clean energy. Businesses are responding. Renewable industries have brought immense economic, environmental and human health benefits to the Northwest. And, as cited in reports to the region’s public utilities commissions, Northwest utilities have found new renewable projects added to their portfolios to be the least-cost, least-risk of all options for the long term. The proof is in the pudding when good vision, business and policy are in place.

Washington can celebrate its renewable energy legacy and expand upon it significantly.

Today, new renewables like wind and solar energy make up less than 5 percent of our region’s energy mix – a small fraction of the coal, natural gas and hydro supply. The federal government’s investment in the hydro system resulted in the cheap, clean hydropower used today. As we plan the retirement of regional coal plants, investments in diverse new renewables will deliver benefits for decades to come.

Wind, solar and biomass companies have brought nearly $8billion in capital investment to Washington to date, adding jobs, construction work and economic vitality to our communities during tough economic times. Plus, renewable energy projects have brought nearly $60 million in tax revenues to Washington’s rural counties, supporting schools and community services. This is largely due to supportive policies, such as Washington’s voter-approved Clean Energy Initiative 937 and the renewable energy sales tax exemption.

New success stories are unfolding. The Palouse wind power project near Oakesdale is expected to create 100 to 200 jobs during construction, and generate $12million in property tax revenues over the next 20 years. Nearly all of the turbine parts for the Palouse project will be manufactured in the United States at Vestas’ production facilities in Colorado. It will provide enough clean electricity to power more than 30,000 Washington homes.

Nationally, the wind industry alone created thousands of U.S. jobs at 400 U.S.-based manufacturing facilities, even amid the recession. If policies like the Production Tax Credit are extended – as opposed to expiring – over 500,000 new American jobs could be created in the next 20 years.

As our system evolves to accommodate more clean energy, some challenges will naturally arise as we deliver it. Our region is up to the task to effectively incorporate and use renewable power. Wind power on the Bonneville Power Administration system yields revenue that is good for BPA and its customers, helping to keep rates low. BPA and the region can pursue a variety of solutions to optimize clean energy use, from accessing existing storage to working to displace fossil fuel beyond the BPA system, sharing clean energy West-wide. Good policies will be necessary to achieve this.

Renewable energy is working for Washingtonians, delivering exciting, tangible benefits during times of need. We believe a clean energy future is best for our economy, workforce, air quality and climate – and generations to come.

Rachel Shimshak is executive directorof Renewable Northwest Project, a nonprofit regional advocacy group that promotes the expansion of environmentally responsible renewable energy resources.