Commentary: Power Points


Washington state has a long history of taking a leadership role in developing advanced technologies. Microsoft, Amazon, Boeing and even Google and Apple have all invested heavily here for years. But our tech-savvy population isn’t simply focused on pumping out software and computer components — though it does that well. Washington’s best and brightest are also developing 

The advanced electricity technologies that create a new clean energy economy. In fact, Washington is second only to Idaho in largest percentage of electricity generated by renewable sources.

This commitment to clean electricity has paid off. Since 2013, more than $535 million of new asset finance in renewable energy has flowed to our state. According to recent research by the American Council on Renewable Energy (ACORE), this investment is growing every year, particularly in the fields of solar and wind generation. But here’s the most impressive statistic: Washington now generates a whopping 77 percent of its electricity from renewable sources. That means 77 percent of Washington’s power doesn’t have to come from foreign oil, coal or natural gas. 

Renewable electricity in Washington is so well established that it’s almost impossible to imagine the state without it. The state generates more of its electricity from hydropower than any other in the nation — 69 percent comes from that one powerful resource. These plants produce more than 89 million megawatts of power a year, enough to keep the lights on in nearly 7 million average-size homes. 

Although our state’s hydropower generation certainly deserves high praise, the growth in other renewable technologies is equally exciting. Washington now gets 8 percent of its remaining electrical generation from solar, wind, waste-to-energy and biomass. This is vitally important because these sectors are growing even faster than the United States economy. Solar industry employment, for example, is growing 10 times faster than the national average employment rate of 1.9 percent. And of the 142,000 people working in the solar industry across the country, 2,000 of those jobs are here in Washington in the state’s 113 solar companies. 

Our state’s wind industry is rapidly expanding as well, now employing more than 2,000 people. Twenty-six in-state wind projects have drawn $5.3 billion in new capital investment, and have enough capacity to power more than 645,000 average homes. 

This growth continues to convince more people in Washington that renewable energy development is a key component of a cleaner and more sustainable future. And the business community agrees. According to a recent ACORE poll, 78 percent of Western business leaders view renewable energy as a place for even more future investment because it helps them reduce costs. The cost-efficiency of renewables is a major reason why green jobs have outnumbered those in the fossil fuel sector for years now. More than 3 million people held green goods-and-services positions in 2012 and indicators show that number is growing every year, especially in Washington state. 

I’m proud of the example Washington is setting by developing its renewable resources. Continuing to take a leadership role 
on this issue is critical to the state’s future. Renewables have proven themselves as a driver of economic growth and are also making our state more energy independent. Let’s see if we can take that next step and become the first state to go 100 percent renewable. 

Rodney Tom represented Washington’s 48th District in the state Senate from 2007 to 2015 and in the House of Representatives from 2003 to 2005. 

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