The Tri-Cities is ripe to transition its economy from one focused on cleaning up the Hanford nuclear site to one focused on clean energy.
“This is the place. We’ve grown around this industry,” said Diahann Howard, executive director of the Port of Benton, which is part of the Washington Vertical coalition working to knit the area’s energy assets into a business cluster.
The work is not new. The port, the Tri-City Development Council and other partners established the Mid-Columbia Energy Alliance in 2009 to develop an energy-related industry.
State and federal legislation are driving resources to create the conditions that support energy innovation, from advanced nuclear and hydrogen, to solar and wind.
Today, the effort goes by the name “Washington Vertical,” and is supported with a state grant to connect communities statewide.
“We’ve been at this for 13 years. We’re almost turnkey,” said David Reeploeg, TRIDEC’s vice president for federal programs.
Clean energy advocates will converge in the Tri-Cities Nov. 8-9 for the 2022 Energy Solutions Summit, sponsored by the Association of Washington Business.
The gathering kicks off with a reception at Barnard Griffin Winery, then gets down to business with a full day of programs at the Three Rivers Convention Center in Kennewick.
The agenda includes a keynote from Robert Schuetz, CEO of Energy Northwest, sessions on permitting and infrastructure challenges and a lunch panel addressing the state of the Snake River dams.
U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell, a Democrat, and U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, a Republican, will team up for a discussion on federal energy policy.
For information or to register, go to bit.ly/EnergySolutionsSummit.
The summit promises to reaffirm what Tri-Citians already know: The Mid-Columbia is rich in energy resources, thanks to the vast investment in science, production and now cleanup since the U.S. government selected Hanford for the Manhattan Project in 1942.
“Our future is based on our past,” said Karl Dye, president and CEO of TRIDEC.
A partial list of assets includes the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and its many spinoffs, Energy Northwest’s 1,200-megawatt nuclear plant north of Richland, the Columbia-Snake hydroelectric system, wind and solar farms, Washington State University’s Tri-Cities campus, Columbia Basin College, a workforce that knows how to build and operate sophisticated energy facilities and thousands of acres of former DOE land available for large facilities.
Knitting it together and shoring up gaps is the challenge. Washington Vertical is building on the work started in 2009.
Connecting the pieces is one of the roles Dave McCormack sees for the Clean Energy Supplier Alliance, which he leads. It is building on the Hanford vendor system to ensure the infrastructure is in place to supply the needs of future industry.
“As a longtime member of the community, I get pride and joy in how the community is defining the Hanford legacy into a clean energy future,” he said.
WSU Tri-Cities is committed as well, said Sandra Haynes, chancellor for the branch campus. The school has a research lab focused on biofuels and received a $500,000 gift from the late Bob Ferguson, who held leadership positions in DOE and at Energy Northwest, to support its Energy Futures Institute.
Haynes said the community can not only thrive as a center for clean energy but do it in a way that benefits local residents. Energy equity should be a priority, she said.
Land is the port’s most significant asset when it comes to enticing energy companies.
In 2015, the U.S. Department of Energy transferred 1,641 acres in north Richland to TRIDEC, which in turn transferred 1,341 acres to the port and the city of Richland. Energy Northwest has 300 acres and is working with a solar developer for the site.
Howard said the port has three to four companies that are actively interested in the large sites on offer – 150 acres and up. An additional 1,000 acres to the south could be transferred as well.
“We have the potential to be the largest clean energy park in the nation,” Howard said.