Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Northwest Aims to Be 'Clean Energy' Leader

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Northwest Aims to Be 'Clean Energy' Leader

Article excerpt

As official Washington argues over a national energy policy based largely on fossil fuels, the Pacific Northwest is pushing to become a leader in "green" energy development worldwide.

Businesses, utilities, government agencies, and homeowners across the region are taking up the cause of environmentally friendly energy - everything from the world's largest wind farm along the Columbia River gorge to the world's only solar-powered Shakespeare festival here in southern Oregon.

Seattle City Light is the first municipally owned utility in the country officially committed to eliminating 100 percent of its global warming emissions. The Washington Technology Center at the University of Washington is working with industry groups on miniature fuel cells.

And even the Bonneville Power Administration, the federal agency in charge of the massive hydropower dams that produce about half the region's electricity, is on its way to becoming the largest supplier of wind energy in the country. BPA also is conducting the world's first residential pilot program for fuel cells (which combine hydrogen and oxygen to produce electricity, leaving only water).

"We're on the threshold of an energy efficiency revolution," says Washington Governor Gary Locke. "If we're smart, we'll stay a step ahead of the market and provide the clean-energy decade with the tools it needs."

Creating jobs

Clean energy is already a $1.4 billion business in Washington, Oregon, and British Columbia, according to a recent market analysis published by Climate Solutions, a nonprofit organization in Olympia, Wash. That's expected to grow to $4 billion a year over the next 20 years, creating as many as 32,000 new jobs.

The prospect of jobs is a very important component here. With the recent slowdown in high-tech industries and Boeing Company's headquarters move from Seattle to Chicago, Oregon and Washington are the worse-off states in the nation in terms of unemployment. As questions of deregulation, cost, foreign imports, and environmental impact swirl around the debate over a national energy strategy, officials here see hope in the future of renewable energy.

"There are emerging industries capable of creating new jobs that not only strengthen our economy, but also promote the conservation values unique to the Pacific Northwest," says Vera Katz, mayor of Portland, Ore.

Mayor Katz recently announced that the city is wooing Vestas Wind Systems of Denmark.

The company, one of the largest makers of wind turbines in the world, is considering Portland as the site of a large manufacturing facility - a move that could mean 600 new jobs.

Not everyone is so starry-eyed about the economic promise of renewable energy. The Cato Institute, a research foundation in Washington that advocates limited government and free markets, asserts that without government support the renewable-energy industry "would cease to exist. …

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