Clean Energy Independence Day creates following

OLYMPIA -- What started in 2009 as a set of displays in the Capitol rotunda intended to inform legislators about the booming energy industry in the Tri-Cities has grown to an annual event drawing international attention.

The third Clean Energy Independence Day at the state Capitol on Wednesday drew participants not only from the Tri-Cities, but also from throughout the state and from 15 companies from the United Kingdom that were interested in learning what Washington has to offer, said Diahann Howard, director of economic development and governmental affairs for the Port of Benton.

Howard took over organizing the annual event from Rep. Larry Haler, R-Richland, whose idea led to the first event two years ago.

Haler's idea was to let Western Washington lawmakers in on what he already knew -- that the Tri-Cities can lead the state in clean energy technology and production as a center for nuclear, hydro, wind and solar power.

He also wanted legislators to know about the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory's efforts in producing new energy technologies.

Although the event since has branched out, developments in the Tri-Cities remain at its heart.

"We are doing what we can as a community to support that sector," Howard said. "From our perspective, this is our future."

Peter Christensen, PNNL's commercialization manager, accompanied Howard to Olympia to tell lawmakers about projects he thinks will be the wave of the state's clean energy future.

"I am taking every chance to get in front of legislative staffers and talk about what PNNL is doing," he said. "Any chance I get to do that is important."

Among the highlights are electrical vehicle charge technology PNNL is developing, and technology that would allow wind power to essentially be stored in large batteries installed on power grids. That would help with the problem of power variability, as windmills only produce electricity on windy days, and without storage capacity must be supplemented with other power sources on calm days.

Christensen believes the Mid-Columbia is an ideal location to test such technologies because of relatively low energy prices in the case of electric vehicles, and the abundance of windmills in the case of energy storage.

He also talked about "smart grid" development and how technology developed at PNNL can bring job growth.

Smart grid technology is designed to improve the power grid's reliability and performance by optimizing the push and pull of supply and demand. Electricity generators, suppliers and consumers are part of the equation and can benefit from improvements.

A smart grid enhances power delivery and use through intelligent two-way communication between suppliers and consumers. It can include interactive appliances in homes, improved substation automation and sensors on transmission lines to monitor activities in real time, exchange information about supply and demand and adjust power use based on instantaneous data.

PNNL is operated by Battelle, which is managing the Pacific Northwest Smart Grid Demonstration Project, the largest and most comprehensive in the nation.

The project will expand existing electric infrastructure and test new combinations of devices, software and analytical tools in homes and on the power grid in 12 Northwest communities, including the Benton Public Utility District.

-- Michelle Dupler: 582-1543; mdupler@tricityherald.com