Going green, yielding gold

Despite the lack of progress at the climate talks in Copenhagen — delegates from most of the world’s nations restated good intentions without acting on them in truly meaningful ways — our state still has plenty to gain by expanding its own clean-energy footprint.

We’re used to thinking green here. Washington’s strong conservationist values, combined with its entrepreneurial savvy, will continue paying off if we keep building on their synergy. For even if the world’s leaders can’t agree on meaningful reductions in greenhouse-gas emissions, the green revolution is under way, with huge economic implications.

And we’re in an excellent position to capitalize on it.

Washington has long been a leader in energy efficiency and the development of renewable power sources, such as hydro and wind. Now the Snohomish County PUD is a leader in the exploration of new forms of green power, highlighted by its foray into tidal generation. The utility is testing the potential of harnessing tides at and around Admiralty Inlet to produce virtually emission-free electricity for thousands of homes. It recently received a $2.5 million federal grant for that research, and is also using millions in stimulus dollars for a smarter grid to deliver new sources of energy.

Our research universities, from which so many cutting-edge innovations emerge, are working with private companies to develop other new energy technologies, including fuel from plants. Such efforts raise Washington’s profile as a leader in green industries, a sector that can become a major employer here. They also bring us closer to the day when we won’t be as dependent on foreign oil — improving national security, reducing harmful emissions and keeping more of our hard-earned dollars at home.

In Richland, the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory is leading the $177 million Pacific Northwest Smart Grid Demonstration Project, a public/private collaboration to use new technology to optimize how electricity is generated, transmitted, distributed and used. The project, which gets half its funding from stimulus money, will also generate a welcome by-product — an estimated 1,500 jobs.

And to prove that nothing is beneath Northwest energy ingenuity, in Monroe, a partnership that includes local farmers and the Tulalip Tribes is generating electricity from cow pies.

With or without significant action by world leaders on climate change, the market for clean-energy solutions will keep expanding. Here in our innovative little region, we should do all we can to combat climate change. It doesn’t hurt that we can be economic winners at the same time.

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