Inslee Claims Clean Energy Mandate, Outlines Ideas for Sector

2/1/13Follow @bromano

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee says he has a “mandate” on clean energy and outlined “eight general ideas” to advance the sector, but he offered little in the way of specific new policies to his stalwart supporters at the Washington Clean Technology Alliance policy conference.

“We were the first state to really elect a governor who made a big deal of that during the campaign,” Inslee told the audience of about 200 earlier this week. “So this is a mandate of sorts from the people that we should move forward on clean energy.”

Inslee says technology, public attitudes, leadership from the White House and Pentagon, and an urgent need to act have combined to make this “the season for clean energy in the state of Washington.” He promises “a fairly aggressive statement and action plan,” and while he put a little more meat on the bones of his policy priorities, he says he’s still not ready to unveil all the details.

Additional policy support cannot come soon enough, as private investors are shying away from cleantech here and across the country. Cleantech investments in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming c0mpanies in alternative energy, storage, recycling, smart grid, transportation, and wastewater treatment declined 67 percent in the fourth quarter of 2012 to $15 million. For the full year, investment was nearly $51 million, down 70 percent, and represented only 1.5 percent of the national total of nearly $3.3 billion, according to the latest report from PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) and the National Venture Capital Association based on data from Thomson Reuters.

“We’ve had a very small piece of the pie even when it was booming in 2010, 2011,” says Stephen Sommerville, who lead’s PwC’s emerging companies practice in Seattle. “I think the broader issue is we don’t really have critical mass in this region.”

Inslee uses the term “cleantech” to describe a very wide range of energy efficiency and conservation activities.

For example, he recounted a pre-dawn visit last weekend to J.M. Martinac Shipbuilding in Tacoma where the 184-foot Northern Leader slid into Commencement Bay packed with technologies that will make it 20 percent more efficient than other ships in the cod-fishing fleet. “This is probably the world’s most fuel-efficient long liner,” Inslee says.

“That ship’s there because Congress rationalized the fishing industry in the North Pacific,” he says. “As a result of that policy, we created a demand, and a steady state so that fishermen and women could go to the banks and borrow money to build these next fleet of ships. … That’s what we’re going to do with policies in the state of Washington. We’re going to create demand that will assist the financing of these capital intensive projects in the future.”

Some of Inslee’s eight ideas could help address capital and new-company formation in cleantech and other sectors as well.

He wants to create a … Next Page »

Benjamin Romano is editor of Xconomy Seattle. Email him at bromano [at] xconomy.com. Follow @bromano

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  • jdurocher1973

    As a business owner in Seattle I can say I am extremely leery of the idea of “public money” (read: more taxes on WA businesses) going down the clean energy rat hole. If Inslee is wrong and there ends up being no true market for clean tech, then we will have wasted millions that otherwise could have been used by companies to find true market demand for their innovations – a huge setback for Washington competitiveness long term. Anytime I hear the government trying to stimulate a new market to life, I groan because history shows it’s mostly an expensive and wasteful proposition.

    • http://www.edutek.net/kofi Baba Kofi Weusijana

      As a person living in Seattle I am extremely leery of the idea of “public money” (read: more taxes on WA business people not as broke as the rest of us) NOT going to save the environment we all depend on. If Inslee is wrong and there ends up being no true market for clean tech, it will be because we continued to rely on non-renewables like fossil fuels. Fossil fuel corporations have 5 times more oil and coal and gas in known reserves than climate scientists think is safe to burn. We have to keep 80% of their fossil fuels underground to keep the earth in livable shape. It time that we have all hands on deck for the survival of human civilization.

      Report after report has shown that investing in clean energy, efficiency and other sustainable technologies can be even more profitable than fossil fuels (http://www.forbes.com/sites/mindylubber/2012/03/20/investors-are-making-money-on-renewable-energy/). It’s a growing market, with over $260bn invested globally last year, and a safe place for institutions to invest (http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/01/12/us-clean-tech-investment-idUSTRE80B1NX20120112).

      • jdurocher1973

        That’s a fine observation but it assumes Washington State taxpayers are going to make a dent in this global issue – and at what cost? We simply don’t have the financial resources in this state to do this alone. A better investment by Inslee would be in working with other states, and nations, to address the problem together. Not spending gobs Washington taxpayers money on experiments.