Governor Inslee Comes Out Swinging For Washington Cleantech

1/22/13Follow @bromano

Washington Governor Jay Inslee devoted about one-seventh of his inaugural address to climate change and the state’s moral imperative and economic opportunity in responding to it.

While the longtime environmental champion left detailed policy proposals for later, his address—along with an op-ed published in Publicola last month—provide a sense of the specific markets and initiatives he might prioritize.

Cleantech backers, meanwhile, are hoping that Inslee will use Washington state’s government purchasing power to support local products and services.

In his prepared remarks (PDF), Inslee positions the state’s response to climate change as a moral and economic imperative, as well as a challenge for which Washington is well-suited with its “particular brand of genius and ingenuity.”

“Now I know Washington can’t solve this global problem alone, but we must embrace our role as first responders as our children’s health is in clear and immediate danger,” he says. “We must also embrace our role as entrepreneurs and pioneers, ensuring that economic solutions to climate change begin here.”

Inslee counts “clean energy technology” alongside aerospace, IT, life sciences, military, agriculture, and maritime trades as industry clusters that drive Washington’s economy now and will in the future.

He reiterated proposals from the campaign trail to create “a tradable research and development tax credit” that early-stage, pre-revenue companies could use to generate capital; and to speed commercialization of technologies developed at state research universities.

Inslee, in a Publicola op-ed last month focused on clean energy economics, identified Washington’s opportunity to lead “in nanotechnology, electricity storage, advanced aviation biofuels, carbon fiber automobile auto parts, [and] energy efficiency technologies from smart grid applications to new forms of building construction.”

He also called for implementation of the state’s renewable fuel law, or adoption of a low-carbon fuel standard in harmony with those of Oregon and California. “Creating a common West Coast market for these fuels will only benefit Washington farmers, entrepreneurs and businesses, while giving consumers practical alternatives to oil,” Inslee wrote.

Inslee also called for updated Utilities and Transportation Commission policies to smooth the way for energy efficiency upgrades and “better align utility business interests with those of their customers.”

This is one area where a governor, through the power of commission appointments, can have direct influence. Other efforts that must go through a divided state legislature will face a tougher path, as evidenced by the skeptical response to Inslee’s inaugural address by House Republican Leader Richard DeBolt, who balked at proposals which he said involved “picking winners and losers.”

While recognizing that Inslee will be hemmed in by politics, a state budget deficit approaching $1 billion over the next two-year cycle, and a mandate to adequately fund K-12 education, some cleantech industry players still hope that the governor will turn state government itself into a consumer of local cleantech products and services.

Earth Day founder Denis Hayes introduced Inslee before the address (pictured above) as the “first political chief executive in American history to be elected principally on a platform of combating climate disruption.” Hayes, chief executive of the Bullitt Foundation, which is building one of the largest commercial office buildings to meet the Living Building Challenge in the country, said in an interview last fall that Washington government should be a model for the world through its procurement.

“Everything that they buy ought to be cleantech, on the cutting edge,” Hayes says. “The state vehicle fleet, every state building, every building that is influenced strongly by the state—every school, every prison—ought to be right out at the edge.”

John Scumniotales, chief executive of Seattle-based Verdiem, an IT energy management software maker, says the state could help patch its budget holes with a tighter focus on reducing energy demand.

“Deploying solutions like ours on the efficiency side saves millions of dollars,” he says. “That’s taxpayer dollars, that’s jobs in the public sector that we’re preserving by rolling these solutions out.”

Kirk Washington, Seattle-based partner with Vancouver, BC, firm Yaletown Venture Partners, says a supportive public policy environment is crucial for the cleantech sector, and the Northwest has generally enjoyed an advantage in this regard—one he’s optimistic an Inslee administration will extend.

“That puts a lot of wind at the back of local startups, where they can get a customer early on and really refine their offering, without having to live on an airplane,” in constant search of customers, Washington says.

Photo by GovInslee via Flickr.

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

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