Our point of view: clean technology opportunities are paving the way for economic development

By the editorial board of the column

Many residents and community leaders were rightly thrilled by the announcement this week by the Lewis County Economic Alliance that a potential $600 million investment is seriously considering the Centralia area.

While details will have to wait for an announcement scheduled for May 12, Alliance Executive Director Richard DeBolt told Centralia City Council on Tuesday evening that it will go through channels related to hydrogen refueling initiatives that are currently taking place. in Lewis County.

DeBolt said the development could mean a 17% tax cut for Centralia residents and, just as important, high-skilled jobs that could soften the blow from TransAlta’s planned end to its coal operations.

Although all participants expressed their appreciation and enthusiasm for the upcoming investment, not everyone was enthusiastic.

Lewis County Commissioner Lindsey Pollock sharply criticized the proposal during a meeting on Wednesday, listing numerous objections. Asking about any new proposal is fair and just. It is important for business and community leaders to obtain as much information as possible before making any decisions or statements that could impact the future growth and development of our community. But Pollock prematurely jumps headfirst before he has enough information to make an informed decision.

Better is expected of a person of his intelligence in a position important to the public.

This is a great time for residents to learn about the world of hydrogen and local efforts to leverage it for economic growth and prosperity here in Lewis County.

Imagine a clean energy epicenter, strategically located between the Pacific Northwest regional population centers of Seattle and Portland; a thriving community of clean energy generation, manufacturing, research and development, education and employment. Daily operations, from driving vehicles to heating homes, will be done with clean, renewable energy, all produced locally and sustainably. This beautiful, heavily forested region will be a haven for the greatest minds and most innovative companies who are working tirelessly to shift our national and international dependence on traditional fuels and rare earth conflict materials and toward a more sustainable and more sustainable energy economy. vital.

It may sound extraordinary, but this evolution is already happening right here in Lewis County.

Our coal community in transition has seen a lot of economic upheaval. High unemployment is an ongoing problem, with the county recording an unemployment rate of 13.3%.

rate in 2009, a low of 6.2% in 2019, and a high of 16.6% in 2020. Perhaps more importantly, Lewis County is chronically underemployed. The average annual salary was $44,692 in 2019, well below the Washington State average of $69,615. According to the 2019 U.S. Census, 12.2% of Lewis County residents lived in poverty. By contrast, only 9.8% of Washington state residents were similarly affected. The economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic have exacerbated this situation.

This is a particularly crucial moment. Jobs that pay for life – and a new economic identity – are desperately needed to achieve a more prosperous future.

The market for green hydrogen is expected to expand 50 times over the next five years alone. If we act quickly and strategically, our community can leverage this growth into a sustainable, manageable and profitable economic recovery scenario. Just as Heavenn, the Netherlands created a model of a sustainable, zero-emissions hydrogen valley, Lewis County can achieve economic recovery and vitality through the adoption and promotion of hydrogen. and other clean energy technologies. It is time. We must seize the tremendous opportunity before us by attracting and supporting clean energy business, industry, research and development.

Twin Transit and the Port of Chehalis are building the first hydrogen fueling station in the Pacific Northwest, funded by a $2.55 million statutory appropriation. This station will be the first in an expanding network of hydrogen fueling stations and electrolysers throughout Washington State. This clean energy delivery system will provide energy independence, reduce emissions and drive economic development – ​​and it all starts here in Lewis County. Our region is ideally positioned, thanks to inexpensive electric power, access to an abundance of drinking water and direct infrastructure connections to train, truck and plane. And that’s only the beginning.

This effort is part of a much larger overall strategy created in partnership with the Lewis County Economic Alliance and the Lewis County Energy Innovation Coalition – a think tank of businesses, organizations and community leaders. government agencies dedicated to facilitating clean energy innovation and related businesses and industries. development – ​​which will attract the brightest and most forward-thinking minds in the renewable energy industry here to our community.

By creating a space that brings together and co-locates these individuals, we will cultivate and stimulate critical thinking, innovation, and the development of a wide range of energy innovation concepts. This, in turn, will attract a slew of additional clean energy companies, manufacturers, researchers and innovators. Over time, Lewis County can become an intellectual, technical, and developmental asset that will provide the state, the nation, and the world with research, innovation, and proven strategies to achieve our zero emissions goals.

That might sound like a lofty goal, but let’s go back to the 1990s, when companies like Apple, Microsoft, Intel and HP were emerging from the garages of creatives and visionaries across our country and coming together to create technology like never before. Renewable energy technologies bring the same enthusiasm, the same desire for excellence. Lewis County can become the Silicon Valley of clean energy, the palace upon which we paint a new masterpiece of energy independence.

Lewis County is on the cusp of a remarkable transition. Once a small coal mining community, we now have the opportunity to reinvent and revitalize our identity through the adoption of clean energy technologies. This transition is already underway with renewable energy projects in wind, solar and hydrogen, and momentum from the Lewis County Energy Innovation Coalition.

But we must act quickly to seize the economic opportunity before us. If we do this consistently and intentionally, we can leverage Lewis County’s clean energy potential into a new, more vibrant economic future.

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