Governor Inslee Previews Plans for Washington’s Clean Energy Economic Growth

Since taking office in 2013, Governor Jay Inslee has begun laying the foundation for a clean energy economy. Yesterday at an energy business conference south of Seattle he sketched out the next stage of his plan, which includes more support for electric vehicles, solar power and energy efficiency.

The Governor drew a parallel to an inflection point in Washington’s energy history, 1935, when Governor Clarence Martin presided over the ceremonial first concrete pour of Columbia RiverGrand Coulee Dam. The controversial dam provided hydropower that ran aluminum smelters, which aided the growth of Boeing and led to an aerospace industry here. Those specialized capabilities recently attracted a manufacturing plant that will make carbon fiber bodies for BMW i3 electric vehicles.

“When you think about it, one generation’s leadership created a whole new industrial concept for the state of Washington,” Inslee says.

Inslee wants to do more for electric vehicles than hosting the manufacture of their carbon fiber bodies. He has made the advancement of electric vehicles is a priority for his administration, and hisExecutive Order 14-04 includes guidance for agencies to develop an EV action plan. He wants to extend a tax break for EV buyers, give drivers access to carpool lanes, increase the number of charging stations and create incentives for new buildings to be ready for high-speed charging.

The Governor also wants to expand solar energy here. State and local agencies already have streamlined the permitting processes for rooftop photovoltaic systems. Inslee wants to expand the Renewable Energy Cost Recovery Incentive Payment Program established in 2006, and adjust the state’s incentive programs to attract larger PV facility developers and investors.

Washington state established a Clean Energy Fund under Inslee’s watch, a program he says has issued $15 million in seed loan guarantees and $3 million in loans to residents for energy efficiency. He plans to request more money for the program in next year’s capital budget.

“I get jazzed when I think we can be as productive in these new industries as we have in decades past,” Inslee says. The state needs new financial mechanisms for entrepreneurs, and new ways to attract capital to the clean energy industry, he says.

Inslee introduced the Washington Department of Commerce’s newly appointed Clean Energy Sector Lead, Brian Young, who was in the audience at the Future Energy Conference luncheon. Young’s assignment is to look for ways to establish a larger and more permanent fund to help drive innovation and solutions in clean energy. Inslee noted that other states have funds to encourage clean energy pilots and commercialization, but Washington has constitutional restrictions against commercial investment of state funds.

“It is up to us to decide if this is our Grand Coulee moment,” Inslee says. “The choices we make now will determine the future our grandchildren live with.”

Inslee held a press Q&A following his keynote, where he gave more details about his plans. For more, read John Stang’s article in Crosscut, “Inslee lays out first clean-energy ideas.” Inslee also answered several questions about the fate of carbon legislation in Washington in view of the previous night’s election returns. Earthfix reporters Ashley Ahearn and Tom Schick wrote an informative piece on this yesterday for OPB: “Election Shifts Oregon Closer To Carbon Tax, Not So For Washington.”

The Governor’s Carbon Reduction Taskforce will return on November 17, 2014, with its final recommendations for designing market-based programs to reduce CO2 pollution in Washington. Inslee will then recommend specific actions to the state legislature.

“The one thing I know is doomed to failure is to do nothing,” Inslee says.

The Future Energy Conference, now in its fifth year, is a business event organized by the Northwest Environmental Business Council, that combines renewable energy, transportation, energy efficiency, and energy policy discussions. The opening plenary panel — Brian Bonlender, Director, WA State Department of Commerce; David Danner, Chairman, WA Utilities and Transportation Commission; and Lynn Peterson, Secretary, WA State Department of Transportation — talked about the challenges they face in their respective agencies but expressed general optimism about their abilities to support the Governor’s clean energy initiatives.


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