Green investments will sprout huge payoffs

Job No. 1 right now in Olympia is doing spadework this year for harvesting thousands of green, high-demand jobs in the years ahead.

Solid, job-creating strategies are moving through the pipeline here to put a new coat of dark green on the way our Evergreen State does energy business. I’m convinced the measures will set off an explosion of new and long-term green jobs. We’re talking about jobs for the current workforce, to be sure, as well as focusing on retraining in skills needed for new careers to carry on through the 21st century.

Late one recent evening in the House, we passed legislation involving the Energy Freedom Program. The program promotes, develops, and encourages energy-efficiency, renewability and innovative-energy technology markets. We need to clear the way for forward-thinking people with vision and technological know-how to get alternative-energy projects moved from the drawing board to the marketplace. Two very straightforward goals are singled out in this measure. We want to:

n Decrease our use of fossil-fuel-based products.

n Increase our use of energy-efficiency programs by pushing products into place faster and making changes that are needed in the Energy Freedom Account in order to secure federal money.

There are folks out there champing at the bit to get started on green-jobs projects involving alternative and renewable-energy sources — including solar, wind, wave, tidal, geothermal, wastewater, anaerobic, and biomass ventures. Also, there are strategies for reducing consumption through such innovations as smart grids and smart metering. Loans in the Energy Freedom Program go toward helping fulfill the mission of our state’s biofuel industry. We aim for nothing less than:

n Establishing markets for alternative fuels.

n Cutting our dependence on foreign oil.

n Improving our health and quality of life.

n Sparking new industries to help farmers and other citizens of rural Washington.

First offered three years ago, these Energy Freedom loans are aimed at launching facilities that generate energy from farm sources and organic matter converted into fuels. These low-interest loans go to local governments, ports and other public entities as a strategy for leveraging additional private financing. Matching funds cover at least half the total cost of a project. The state Department of Agriculture works to help finance development of a viable biofuel industry by promoting public research and development in biofuel sources and markets, and supporting a strong biofuel-crop sector in agribusiness.

We passed a bill a couple of days earlier here in the House to promote the use of facilities called anaerobic digesters — specially designed, insulated tanks that are used to produce biogas. The process of anaerobic digestion occurs naturally in the absence of air when micro-organisms stabilize waste-organic matter and release biogas. Anaerobic digestion itself is a series of processes in which microorganisms break down biodegradable material. This process is particularly suited to wet organic material, and it’s commonly used for effluent and sewage-treatment.

You might call it a “two-fer,” this anaerobic-digester technology. It isn’t just great for the environment; it’s also a terrific source of alternative energy. But the problem today is that our current permitting process involves five different permits — and that’s simply too complicated and cumbersome. We need to prune the bureaucratic thicket back so more folks can use these digesters — and thus make the technology more practical and widespread.

The measure requires the state departments of Ecology, Agriculture and Health to work together in developing and issuing guidelines for anaerobic co-digestion of livestock manure and organic waste-derived material.

In addition to the obvious help it provides for the environment, an anaerobic-digestion facility produces biogas. The methane in biogas can be burned to produce heat and electricity, and — what do you know! — the excess electricity can then be sold to suppliers or added to the local grid.

Another measure we sent over to the Senate the other day directs the Housing Finance Commission to develop and implement a sustainable-energy trust program. Our goal is bolstering the financing of energy-efficiency improvements. Homeowners and utilities need this encouragement to install new technologies for distributed-energy generation. Homeowners could voluntarily levy their property-tax assessment for a certain amount to pay for solar-electric systems.

We have the power today to shape and reshape the way we get our power tomorrow. There’s no doubt that making our way through these energy twists and turns up ahead will demand a good deal of outside-the-box thinking. I say, Bring it on!

State Rep. John McCoy, D-Tulalip, represents the Everett, Marysville, and Tulalip communities of Snohomish County. He chairs the House Technology, Energy &Communications Committee.

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