I work in a field where stories about advances in the renewable energy sector land in my inbox on a daily basis.
Imagine if all of the tens of millions of dollars spent fighting Initiative 1631 were invested in renewable energy. In a state with billionaires and titans of technology, we should not let the failure of what would have been the first carbon tax in the nation block the path for a clean-energy future.
Most Washingtonians would like a future where our grandchildren can harvest salmon, breathe smoke-free air, eat local cherries and watch orcas swimming in the Salish Sea. The status quo of our current energy portfolio puts all of these Washington treasures in jeopardy.
Last week, I was at a workshop in southwest Washington with foresters, farmers, scientists and environmentalists where we had shared values on our vision for a future with vibrant natural resources and communities. We differed in how to reach that vision.
A similar problem existed with 1631. To build our renewable energy revolution, we need to focus on our shared values. A homegrown energy revolution can benefit the entire state and be a model for the rest of the nation. In a state with corporations that have changed the way the world travels, works, shops and drinks coffee, we can and should lead in revolutionizing our energy portfolio.
The technology that exists for a complete transition to renewable energy — which can be harvested from our forests, farms, waters, sun and wind — can also be used to increase energy efficiency and expand the smart-energy grid. Our aim should be 100 percent renewable in nearly every energy sector by 2030. Many Washington communities already have made the pledge: Edmonds, Mercer Island and Spokane. All of us must follow suit.
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Our economy, meanwhile, needs to use existing waste resources from municipalities, industry and agriculture for our energy needs. We need to take inspiration from other countries such as India, where plastic waste will be made into biofuel. Our existing refineries and power plants need to be retrofitted to produce renewable energy from Washington resources like the renewable diesel plant proposed in Ferndale. Our local utilities should not be importing energy from coal-fired plants in other states.
Our vision for the future should be a state where fossil fuels are unwelcome not just because of their environmental consequences, but because they are as archaic as a rotary phone. Fortunately, much of our state’s electricity is already generated by clean hydropower. However, when all energy sectors are combined, only 30 percent comes from hydropower and 10 percent from renewables. Though solar and wind have grown and should continue to grow, we need a diversified energy portfolio and need to explore and expand geothermal, tidal and bioenergy.
We must address carbon emissions stemming from transportation — the sector that requires the biggest transformation, has the most reliance on fossil fuels and accounts for 40 percent of carbon emissions in Washington state. We love our car culture, and not all of us can buy an electric car. Nor will a switch to all-electric vehicles be sustainable. In cities, we need to walk, bike more and increase public transit. In both cities and rural areas, we can car pool and combine errands and trips into a single, longer trip. In addition, ethanol and other fuels can be produced from Washington bioenergy farms instead of Midwest-grown crops.
Yes, during the transition, energy costs may rise and will be a hardship for some. A flooded home and being sick from a summer of smoke is also a cost. All energy sources have pros and cons. As technology is refined, we can enhance the benefits and reduce the costs of renewable energy. As policies and investment in renewable energy grow, jobs can be created throughout the state.
I work in a field where stories about advances in the renewable-energy sector land in my inbox on a daily basis. The technology for diversified forms of renewable energy exist and can be deployed rapidly given determination and financial support. We need to work together to find a way to get there despite the financial and political obstacles.