A newly released report says Washington and Oregon states can assume leadership in five cleantech sectors with the potential to generate up to 63,000 direct jobs by 2025 (up from 11,000 today), and outlines what it says is a plan to be the first US region to achieve 75% of its electricity from carbon-free sources by 2025. By the report’s own admission, there is nothing particularly new about the five presumptive areas of strength (PV manufacturing, wind power development, green building design, smart grid and bioenergy), and the 75% figure is somewhat misleading, given that the two states already get 62% of their electricity from clean hydro and renewable sources (The hydro, of course, has nothing to do with anything we’ve done, but merely the luck of living in a place with lots of mountains and rivers). That said, the report is a very helpful first step for a region that has struggled mightily to get its act together and to find a clear identity and focus amid the clean technology boom in the Bay Area and Boston. It points to a number of signals that point to the potential for future leadership – home to big PV plants from REC and Solar World, home to big wind developments, etc. The report, produced by Climate Solutions and CleanEdge, also proposes a top-level series of 10 actions for the Northwest to achieve its role as a cleantech leader. The top 10 list: 1. put a price on carbon, 2. increase Washington RPS to 25 percent by 2025, 3. implement low carbon fuel standards, 4. pass aggressive green building codes, 5. foster regional cooperation, 6. ensure public funding for clean technology via PERS investments and through targeted clean-tech funds, 7. implement effective tax credits for renewables development, 8. deploy cleantech workforce development programs, 9. establish government procurement policies for cleantech products and services and 10. build out regional smart grids and 21st century transmission backbone.
Oh, is that all? Not to mention that how we achieve all of that in 17 years is still unclear. But it is clear from the report that the proof of Northwest leadership is building in drips rather than torrents. It points out several major weaknesses, including some that make the top 10 actions look easy:
- Absence of a leading university technology incubator like MIT or Stanford
- Technology investment climate that pales in comparison to Silicon Valley and Boston
- Small size of public clean-energy support funds compared to other state leaders
- Aging electric utility grid system challenged to carry increasing distributed and variable energy sources such as wind, wave and solar
- Small regional market served by cheap hydro, compared to densely populated markets with high-power prices in other cleantech centers
Another issue that is particularly troubling to me: the lack of synergy between Oregon and Washington. They are working very much in silos, despite the best efforts of Climate Solutions. The one bright spot is the Western Climate Initiative, so that’s hopefully something to build on. And the absence so far of any attempt by Oregon and
Washington’s Fortune 500 companies to be advocates for the region and to work together to bring their influence to bare.
Nevertheless, the report is rather optimistic in its job creation forecasts, with an acclerated forecast of 63,000. The less aggressive target is 40,000. Nearly two thirds of the growth is expected to come from the PV and bioenergy sectors.
Disclosure: I was one of the 50+ people interviewed for the report and I’m a member of the Climate Solutions Business Leaders for Climate Action group. I’ve written about many of these obstacles and opportunities here in the past.