News Column

Economic Potential of Clean, Green Energy

July 9, 2013
Palouse Wind groundbreaking (photo: First Wind)
Palouse Wind groundbreaking (photo: First Wind)

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee has been preaching the economic development potential of clean energy for years, and he pointed to a concrete example of that while visiting Whitman County Monday.

Inslee was guest speaker at a ceremony commemorating the first six months of operation for Palouse Wind, a 58-turbine wind farm located east of U.S. Highway 195, between Rosalia and Oakesdale.

The project, which is owned by Boston-based First Wind, recently surpassed 150,000 megawatts of production. It's been in the works since 2007, when the company asked Whitman County to develop a wind ordinance for its zoning codes.

That same year, then-Congressman Inslee co-authored "Apollo's Fire: Igniting America's Clean Energy Economy," which suggested the country could address global warming, revitalize its economy and gain energy independence by embracing renewable energy technologies.

Palouse Wind is a poster child for that concept, he said.

"For those who don't believe new technology, entrepreneurial spirit and the right policies can generate the economic rebirth of rural Washington, let them come to Palouse Wind," Inslee said.

First Wind estimates the project will contribute about $12 million in property taxes to Whitman County over the next 20 years. It also employed more than 200 people during the yearlong construction phase.

Inslee credited Washington voters with providing the incentives needed to spark the revolution. They approved Initiative 937 in 2006, which requires large utilities to meet 15 percent of their energy requirements with renewable sources by 2020.

"That created the economic foundation so we could grow projects like this across the state," he said. "And it's been spectacularly successful. We've increased our use of renewables by a factor of three in the last eight or nine years, and created thousands of jobs. Last year, for the first time in history, we added more wind energy to the power grid in the United States than any other form of electricity. I think that's something to celebrate."

In addition to the I-937 mandate, Washington and the federal government both offer renewable energy tax incentives. Palouse Wind, for example, received a 75 percent sales tax refund on much of its equipment purchases. That refund program had been set to expire June 30, but Inslee and the Washington Legislature just approved a seven-year extension.

The cost of the incentive is unclear. The extension legislation did not include a fiscal note, and the Department of Revenue could not answer how much revenue had been refunded to companies in the past.

Todd Myers, the director of the Washington Center for the Environment, noted in a recent blog post for the Washington Policy Center that the incentive cost the state $41 million in lost revenue the last two years, but didn't indicate how much the projects paid in property taxes, wages or other economic activity.

Inslee said he hopes Palouse Wind "is just the start of the clean-energy revolution in Washington."

"Let's all walk out of here as acolytes for clean energy," he said. "Let's make sure legislative leaders keep the ball rolling. We know we need to de-carbonize the electrical grid if our grandkids are going to enjoy the Washington we see today."

Joining Inslee at the celebration was Paul Gaynor, CEO of First Wind; Scott Morris, chairman and CEO of Avista Corp., which purchases much of the power generated by the project; and Chris Brown, CEO of Vestas-North America, which manufactured the turbines.

Political leaders from across the county also attended the celebration, including Sen. Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville; Rep. Susan Fagan, R-Pullman; mayors from Pullman, Oakesdale, Rosalia and Palouse; three Pullman City Council members; all three Port of Whitman commissioners; and four current and former Whitman County commissioners -- incumbents Art Swannack and Dean Kinzer, as well as former Commissioners Greg Partch and Pat O'Neill.

Partch and O'Neill both supported development of the wind farm when they were in office, largely because of the tax benefits to the county. Partch was also instrumental in encouraging Avista Corp. to upgrade its power transmission lines in the county, which paved the way for the project.

"We believed in it," Partch said. "It probably would have happened even without our help, but maybe not at this time. I'm really proud to have been a part of it."

Spence may be contacted at bspence@lmtribune.com or (208) 791-9168.

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(c)2013 the Lewiston Tribune (Lewiston, Idaho)

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Source: Copyright Lewiston Morning Tribune (ID) 2013


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