Guest Opinions

Transition to clean energy is achievable

A field of 200-foot-tall wind turbines make up the Nine Canyon Wind Project operated by Energy Northwest near the Tri-Cities.
A field of 200-foot-tall wind turbines make up the Nine Canyon Wind Project operated by Energy Northwest near the Tri-Cities. Tri-City Herald

As our climate grows more volatile, the threat posed by continued reliance on fossil fuels is becoming increasingly obvious.

We are seeing earlier and more wildfires and we’ll need to spend billions of tax dollars on new water projects to protect against the expected reduction in mountain snowpack. Unmitigated climate change will radically alter our way of life, it will be costly and it won’t be comfortable. And burning of fossil fuels will continue to result in increased respiratory disease and premature deaths.

But this year was a turning point.

Our state Legislature passed a suite of bills that finally begin to match the magnitude of the challenge we face. Perhaps the most significant of these bills was Senate Bill 5116, which puts Washington state on a path toward 100 percent clean electricity by 2045.

With a fossil-fuel free electricity system, we can begin to shift more and more of our transportation and other energy needs to clean, inexpensive electricity.

In addition to the clean electricity bill, the Washington state Legislature also passed important legislation phasing out harmful hydrofluorocarbons, creating new building and appliance efficiency standards, and a green transportation package that incentivizes electric vehicles, electrification of transit fleets, and invests in charging infrastructure. This suite of bills will reduce greenhouse gas emissions, reduce energy costs, improve health and increase jobs in Washington.

Innovation is the foundation for a 100 percent clean, reliable energy economy. Over the course of the last decade, clean energy resources like wind and solar have become cheaper than coal power and are now cost-competitive with natural gas.

This trend is projected to continue, particularly given that wind and solar have no fuel costs while gas plants are tied to the volatile cost of gas.

In addition small modular nuclear reactors show promise, as do homegrown innovations in nuclear fusion; hydropower is becoming more efficient and will be properly credited under SB 5116; and new storage technologies are providing clean, affordable energy at the times most needed, not just when the sun is shining.

Earlier this year, a Portland utility announced that it would be building the largest pairing of wind/solar/battery storage in North America. Arizona’s largest utility recently determined that battery storage was far cheaper than building new natural gas peaker plants.

Advances in vehicle efficiency and much increased range of electric vehicles, including trucks, are on the horizon — allowing more people to benefit from the low operating cost of electric vehicles. Innovation in management of forests, farms and fields also can play an important role in reducing greenhouse gas emissions, reducing fire hazards, and improving soil health and agricultural productivity.

We should expect our clean energy economy to keep growing quickly!

Unquestionably, this was a big year for climate policy in Washington state, but in order to truly match the magnitude of the challenge climate change presents, we must continue to do more, especially in transportation, industrial processes and land use.

We need to keep the opportunities presented by a clean energy transition at the top of our minds and alive in our day-to-day conversations.

We are taking important steps to reduce pollution, improve public health, and support new job creation and economic development across the state. We owe it to our children and our grandchildren to not let up and continue to do everything we can to support a rapid transition to a clean energy future.

Doug Ray, of Richland, is Chair of the Carbon Washington Board of Directors. Adam Maxwell is government relations director at Audubon Washington.

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