Maintaining low cost electricity vital to Washington’s clean tech industries | Don Brunell

Since the construction of Grand Coulee and Bonneville dams, Washington has enjoyed an abundance of low cost, reliable hydropower. It has been one-key competitive advantage for energy intensive industries and now it is vital to our state burgeoning “clean tech industries.”

Since the construction of Grand Coulee and Bonneville dams, Washington has enjoyed an abundance of low cost, reliable hydropower. It has been one-key competitive advantage for energy intensive industries and now it is vital to our state burgeoning “clean tech industries.”

Hydropower, along with nuclear, solar and wind, produce no greenhouse gases; however, solar and wind only generate electricity intermittently. Their production must be augmented by reliable sources which include those using natural gas.

Washington’s Dept. of Commerce estimates that 90,000 workers in our state are tied to companies which make high tech components for computers, solar panels and carbon fibers. Many of these clean tech plants require large loads of a consistent current of electricity. Even the slightest fluctuation or interruption in power is harmful to production. It is that sensitive.

Over the years, electric utilities realized as our state and region grew, there would be an increased need for new power plants which provided a steady transmission of electricity

Forty years ago, many of our state’s public utilities banded together and formed the Washington Public Power Supply System (WPPSS) to build five nuclear power plants. Meanwhile, many investor owned utilities invested in coal-fired plants at Centralia and in Colstrip (MT).

Of the five WPPSS projects, four were abandoned and only the Columbia Generating Station near Richland was completed. Today, Columbia produces 1,190 megawatts of electricity, which is about 10 percent of the state’s electricity generation.

Other PUDs without a hydropower base started looking for other generating sources.

For example, Clark Public Utilities, which serves about residential, commercial and industrial customers in Vancouver, installed a new efficient natural gas-fired plant that went into operation in 1997. It generates 40 percent of the utility’s energy needs.

The River Road Generating Plant is important to help to shape and stabilize the new supply of renewable power because under Initiative 937 — the statewide renewable energy law passed by voters in 2006 — Clark PUD has incorporated wind energy into its power mix.

Unfortunately, while Clark PUD is attempting to provide affordable, reliable electricity to its customers and comply with I-937 requirements, Gov. lnslee’s new clean air rules under consideration by the Dept. of Ecology, impede the utility’s ability to provide a reliable and affordable power supply to its customers.

The rule, as first proposed, would have applied to 23 entities producing 100,000 metric tons or more of greenhouse gases per year, including power plants, natural-gas distributors and oil refineries. That draft rule was withdrawn, rewritten and released for comment in May.

Inslee made some accommodations to industries struggling to compete internationally, such as pulp and paper, but held firm on power plants including the River Road Generating Plant.

The added costs associated with including natural-gas fired generators in the new rule, impact households as well as industrial ratepayers in southwest Washington, an area hit hard by the last recession. It is home to the state’s largest concentration of semiconductor employers employing over 4,000 people.

Washington state has recognized the semiconductor industry as one of the state’s existing key industry clusters, but semiconductor manufacturers are facing increasing pressure to expand or relocate elsewhere.

The Southwest Washington High Tech Council wrote the Inslee Administration requesting an exemption from the new rule or some accommodation. They fear if its members lose this competitive edge in electricity rates, expansion of the local semiconductor industry and recruiting of other semiconductor companies here will be difficult at best, impossible most likely.

That is important for the governor and DOE to remember as they push their new rules.

Don C. Brunell is a business analyst, writer and columnist. He retired as president of the Association of Washington Business, the state’s oldest and largest business organization, and now lives in Vancouver. He can be contacted at theBrunells@msn.com.

 


Talk to us

Please share your story tips by emailing editor@courierherald.com.

To share your opinion for publication, submit a letter through our website https://www.courierherald.com/submit-letter/. Include your name, address and daytime phone number. (We’ll only publish your name and hometown.) Please keep letters to 500 words or less.

More in Business

Don Brunell
Massive reforestation effort needed

Forestry effort would control future wildfires, create jobs and help fight climate change

Don Brunell
Power of Our Interconnected Grid with Ample Supply | Brunell

Cheers to the Pacific Northwest power grid for weathering our recent heat wave

Don Brunell
Family Tree Farms Key to Cutting Greenhouse Gases | Brunell

Small-time tree farmers are the unsung heroes of our healthy forests

Dave and Buster's restaurant and entertainment venue looks to hire 130 people to staff its Bellevue venue, set to open in August. Photo courtesy Dave and Busters.
Dave and Buster’s hiring 130 for August opening in Bellevue

Dave and Buster’s restaurant and entertainment venue opens in downtown Bellevue on… Continue reading

Don Brunell
Water has a greenhouse gas problem | Brunell

Polluted bodies of water, especially rivers and streams, release nearly 4 billion tons of CO2 every year.

Don Brunell
Land is the wild card in Biden’s green gamble |Brunell

It will take a lot of land to covert the U.S. to 100 percent renewable energy.

Images of dishes from Issaquah’s Umi Cafe posted on the SMORS page. (Photo courtesy of Kristen Ho)
Facebook page promotes minority-owned restaurants across Puget Sound region

Miya Nazzaro used to be a member of Facebook pages that were… Continue reading

Don Brunell
Ignoring China’s grip on critical metals production is not an option | Brunell

China processes more than 90 percent of the world’s manganese, while the U.S. has none.

Ian McLeod speaks with customers behind the desk at Rock Paper Games on Main Street in Buckley on the afternoon of May 11. Photo by Alex Bruell
Buckley game shop is a critical hit

‘Rock Paper Games’ has weathered COVID-19 with the help of the Plateau gaming community

Don Brunell
Building our future electricity supply around hydropower | Brunell

Instead of eliminating fossil-fuel power plants, Washington and New Zealand should work on making those plants fore energy efficient.

The Moe Vegan food truck serves meals at the city of Kent’s annual Community Thanksgiving Dinner on Nov. 21, 2020. Sound Publishing file photo
King County fire marshals offer regulatory relief to food trucks

39 fire authorities have reportedly agreed to standardize fire codes and inspections.

Don Brunell
Unemployment insurance intended as a bridge between jobs | Brunell

It shouldn’t be an incentive to stay jobless.