Renewable Resources Energize the Futureby Rep. Adam Smith, D-Wash., represents the 9th District
Opinion, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, November 5, 2003
By 2020, the Northwest will need enough new electricity to light five cities the size of Seattle. A range of studies shows that meeting these new electricity needs with homegrown energy efficiency and renewable energy is realistic, affordable and achievable. In fact, according to the Renewable Energy Atlas of the West, our region is uniquely positioned to lead the way in developing renewable energy.
This solution promises literally thousands of well-paid jobs, significant new income sources for farmers and incredible entrepreneurial opportunities.
We have made significant progress already. According to the Northwest Energy Efficiency Alliance, energy efficient windows in the Northwest represent 70 percent of the market today compared with 15 percent in 1997, and our region is a leader in sales of energy-efficient appliances. We need to continue to develop and market innovative energy-efficiency technologies since superior design is the most cost-effective way to save energy.
Analyses indicate the burgeoning renewable energy industry could provide thousands of family-wage jobs in the Northwest over the next 20 years. Farmers leasing land for wind projects earn $2,000 to $4,000 per turbine per year and continue to grow crops and graze cattle beneath the turbines.
We need to harvest renewable resources to make clean energy the next big Northwest cash crop, one that we can export to the country and world instead of relying on foreign fossil fuels. One step I have taken in Congress is to co-sponsor legislation that would renew the wind production tax credit for five years. We need multiyear availability to avoid the "boom-bust" cycle experienced by the wind industry due to periodic expiration of the tax credit. Studies by PacifiCorp and the Bonneville Power Administration have found it is feasible to integrate wind into the grid.
The case for other energy alternatives is not as strong. Among other problems, natural gas has experienced significant price volatility, coal causes serious environmental damage and a safe solution has still not been found for disposing of radioactive nuclear waste. With our river system stressed by competing demands, it makes sense to diversify our regional energy supply with clean energy alternatives.
Given the impressive development potential for efficiency and renewables in the Northwest, we should seize this opportunity to create jobs and grow the regional economy. Since many of the technologies we develop here in the Northwest will be used in other regions as well, we will also be contributing to national security by serving as an incubator for alternative energy technologies.
The potential positive economic impact of conservation and renewables is staggering. A recent Tellus Institute study found that renewable energy and energy efficiency initiatives compare very favorably with natural gas in cost and potential. We can provide affordable power to homes and industries while making the Northwest a healthier, cleaner and more sustainable place in which to raise our families.
In various forums over the next several months, the Power Council, BPA and area utilities will be discussing our energy future. It is imperative that BPA, which provides more than two-thirds of the region's electricity, take the lead in pushing for a future of clean energy and economic prosperity.
Overall, I am optimistic about our region's progress toward embracing clean energy but I know that much remains to be done. A recent report by the Union of Concerned Scientists gives Washington and Oregon low marks for creating a policy environment favorable to renewable energy. In a region with so much potential, there's no excuse for these disappointing grades. The Northwest can and should be a leader in renewable energy and energy efficiency, and I welcome the challenge to make this happen.
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