Washington state is evaluating how best to meet the state's future energy needs to inform the state's energy strategy. Guest columnist John Plaza, however, argues the 26-person advisory board is missing an important perspective — that of people working in the renewable-energy industry.
AS billowing plumes of crude oil continue to devastate the Gulf of Mexico, we are reminded once more of the pressing need to develop clean and sustainable alternatives to fossil fuels.
Here in Washington state, at the direction of legislation passed earlier this year, the U.S. Department of Commerce is currently studying how to best meet our future energy needs by revising the state energy strategy with the counsel of a 26-person advisory board. The legislation called for an energy strategy that balances three goals: Maintain competitive energy prices; foster a clean-energy economy and clean jobs; and meet obligations to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions.
With 57 percent of Washington’s emissions created by vehicles, intuitively any strategy for carbon dioxide (CO2) reduction must include a role for biofuels, which have been shown to reduce CO2 emissions by up to 80 percent. Amazingly, not a single company or executive from the renewable-fuels industry sits on the committee. In fact, the lone fuel-industry representative is a lobbyist for British Petroleum.
This begs the question of who is better suited to chart a new energy course — representatives from the existing petroleum industry, or a biofuels company whose very mission and existence is founded on creating low-carbon, renewable fuels?
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Regardless of the lack of representation by the biofuels community, even more concerning is that the advisory committee does not have a single representative from any of the 80 dedicated renewable-energy companies located in Washington state. How can the state expect to chart a comprehensive course for a “clean-energy economy” that “reduces GHG (greenhouse gas) emissions” without the input from companies and leaders working at the very center of developing such alternatives for our state and the nation?
Washington state certainly doesn’t suffer from a lack of qualified and motivated clean-tech leaders or innovation in the clean-tech industry. According to Xconomy.com, our state had more than 80 clean-energy companies in early 2009 — that number is likely higher now. Washington ranks fifth in the nation in total venture-capital investments and fourth in the number of deals over the past 10 years in clean technology.
There are an estimated 22,900 clean-tech jobs in the Puget Sound region alone, a number that is expected to grow by about 3,900 in the next five years, according to a report from the Prosperity Partnership. And all clean-tech industries are expected to grow at a rate higher than the economy as a whole.
The state, and its elected officials, would be wise to recognize the strong support for clean energy and decreased reliance on imported oil. A survey by Seattle-based Climate Solutions in May showed that nearly 60 percent of voters in Washington would like to see the federal government invest more in clean-energy technology. More importantly, 76 percent want the country to reduce its dependence on foreign oil. That last figure includes 68 percent of Republicans and 70 percent of people who identify themselves as independents. Clearly, there is tri-partisan support.
I believe the best way to chart a clean-energy future for our state is through meaningful and significant representation from people and businesses that are actually developing innovative clean-energy technologies, not just bureaucrats, elected officials, old-line industries and lobbyists.
Without the full engagement of clean-energy innovators, we run the risk of a continued “status quo” approach that is dominated by incumbent special interests that have little incentive or drive to take the aggressive, and sometimes disruptive, steps needed to foster a new, clean and sustainable energy economy in our state.
John Plaza is founder and CEO of Imperium Renewables, a producer of biodiesel from canola oil regionally sourced at its facility in Grays Harbor.