Friday, 20 Sep 2002

WALLA WALLA, Wash.

It’s 7:00 in the morning and I’m about three hours southeast of Olympia, Wash., on my way to Walla Walla, and I’m really tired. My talk at the Northwest Renewable Energy Festival doesn’t take place until after noon, so I should be catching a little shuteye. Instead, I’m straining away to see what I’m writing on this laptop as the low morning sun blazes directly in my eyes. I think we’re coming up on Yakima and I’m starting to daydream about coffee, though I’m trying to resist.

Anyone who’s been reading my entries for the last four days would think I travel continually. The truth is that the vast majority of my time is spent in our office in Olympia doing the glamorous work of attending meetings and sending and reading email. Obviously, there’s more to it than that, but it can certainly feel that way at times. So, while it’s hard to be away from friends and family, it’s great to be out on the road.

We’re officially out of the mountains now and cruising east through open, rolling fruit country; in just a little while we’ll be cutting southeast towards Walla Walla. I’m already feeling a sense of anticipation as we near the new Stateline Wind Project. If I recall correctly, it’s still the world’s largest. As you approach Walla Walla from the west, you can’t miss the imposing sight of over 200 large turbines churning steadily from the high winds that gust across the southeastern Washington ridgelines. Even though I’ve seen it twice before, it still gives me a little thrill.

To some folks, these types of large windpower installations may seem disconcerting and out of place in the vast western landscape. To me, and to a growing number of Walla Walla County residents, however, they spell jobs, new local tax revenue, increased tourism (visitors can now take wine and wind tours), and an antidote to still more imposing and environmentally destructive fossil fuel power plants. In short, they spell the future.

In some cases, wind can be one of the most lucrative crops for those farmers and ranchers lucky enough to lease their land to wind developers for big projects like this one. For every turbine erected, landowners receive between $2,000 and $4,000 per year — and for each one, just a half-acre or so of land is taken out of production.

Fairly soon I’ll need to do a mental shift, because, whereas my talk will briefly address rural opportunities in clean energy, the majority of the focus will be on the larger idea that clean energy is the next high-tech revolution and a major new source of jobs and economic activity for our region. I need to be prepared, too, in the event I can still carve out an hour or so of time to spend with keynote speaker and energy visionary Amory Lovins. A colleague from the Department of Energy has asked me to fill in for him on his short talk on “Energy Basics” and moderate a panel discussion. So who knows what the late afternoon will bring. One way or another, I’m going to enjoy this festival and be glad for the weekend.