Washington State Must Step up Renewable Energy Game

on April 13, 2015 at 12:00 PM

A picture taken on June 20, 2012 shows eAs the CEO of a Seattle-based solar company, I know that our state’s forward-looking clean energy policies are a major reason why cutting-edge businesses have decided to set up shop here in Washington.

But in the past decade, other states have caught on. They’ve learned from our example. They’ve learned that investing in clean tech and passing smart energy legislation means more high-paying jobs, better business opportunities and less pollution in their states.

While this is good news for the country as a whole, it also means that Washington is falling behind. If we want to capitalize on the rapidly falling costs of renewable energy, take advantage of the steep upward trend in clean energy investment, and provide a much-needed boost to our state’s education and transportation budgets, we need to up our game. We need new, innovative policies — and we need them now.

Thankfully, Gov. Jay Inslee’s Carbon Pollution Accountability Act offers us a path forward. This bill creates a new, market-based program to limit carbon pollution from our state’s largest emitters. It would generate much-needed revenue for Washington’s growing infrastructure and education needs, reduce our share of the carbon pollution that causes climate change, and spur advancements in clean energy technologies.

The House recently released its version of the state budget, but the carbon pollution program not was included. This was a mistake. There’s still time for the Legislature to get it right this session, and it is imperative our leaders act now to support the bill.

Jobs must be part of the equation

Consider for a moment Washington’s ranking in the most recent clean energy jobs report from Environmental Entrepreneurs, or E2, the nonpartisan business group to which I belong. According to E2, the top five states for clean energy jobs for 2014 were Nevada, California, New York, Michigan, and Arizona. Washington was not in the top five. Or the top 10. Or the top 20. In fact, Washington ranked 32nd of 50 states for clean energy jobs announced in 2014.

That’s not good enough. For a state that touts itself as technologically savvy, innovative, and green, we’re not living up to our potential — or our reputation — in this modern, high-growth sector. How do I know common-sense clean energy policies like a carbon pollution program work? Well, in addition to developing solar projects in Washington, our company has successfully developed projects in growing clean energy markets across the country.

Our most recent large-scale solar project is on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. We partnered with a local farmer who leased us 20 acres of his least-productive farmland, upon which we installed a 4.3 MW solar array. The power generated by this project will be sold to the National Aquarium in Baltimore, supplying the Aquarium with competitive, stable and predictable rates for the next quarter-century.

Maryland’s carbon policies make it a great place to do business. Its Renewable Portfolio Standards encourage production of solar energy. And Maryland belongs to the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, or RGGI — a collection of nine eastern states that created a carbon emissions marketplace (similar to what HB 1314 would create). Since its creation in 2008, this compact, designed to gradually lower regional carbon emissions, has generated more than $1.6 billion in economic value, saved consumers $1.1 billion on their electric bills, and created more than 16,000 jobs.

Of course, we don’t have to trek across the country to see how carbon markets add jobs and drive innovation. Both California and British Columbia have recently created emission markets — and by all accounts these markets have been good for the economy and the environment.

Inslee’s new bill is packed with the potential to kick-start clean energy jobs here in Washington. This would put us back into a leadership role and provide support for our state’s education system, transportation infrastructure and much more.

To expand Washington’s economy, brighten our energy future and reduce the amount of carbon pollution we pump into the atmosphere, Washington’s Legislature should pass the Carbon Pollution Accountability Act.

Bryce Smith is co-founder and CEO of OneEnergy Renewables, a Washington-based company that develops distributed utility-scale solar projects and next-generation renewable power products.

Originally published in The Columbian.