Inslee Claims Clean Energy Mandate, Outlines Ideas for Sector

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 »

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

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