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Opinion: Clean energy infrastructure vital to Washington’s future

April 19, 2021

Weather-related blackouts in Texas earlier this year and the rolling blackouts in California last year are further reminders of how fragile our power grids can be. 

As utilities go through the process of planning to comply with Washington’s Clean Energy Transformation Act (CETA) we must acknowledge we have the same vulnerabilities here. Washington utilities therefore must include robust carbon-free energy infrastructure in their energy portfolios. 

Washington state led the nation when Gov. Jay Inslee signed CETA in 2019. This groundbreaking legislation requires that our state’s utilities supply Washingtonians with 100% clean carbon-free power by 2045.

Now our region’s utilities like Puget Sound Energy have just gone through the process of developing integrated resource plans (IRP) that involve planning how to remove global greenhouse gas emitting energy sources from their portfolios and replace them with carbon-free sources of power for utility customers. This is a daunting task and we all must support the utilities as they work through this very complex and unprecedented process. In turn, the utilities must properly consider all available technology to supply Washingtonians with the affordable clean power we need.

One important mature technology in the Puget Sound Energy IRP process is closed-loop pumped storage. The proposed Goldendale Energy Storage Project in Klickitat County relies on this established carbon-free technology and would provide our region with the needed energy storage resources that will be essential in complying with CETA. 

The Goldendale Project will generate 1,200 megawatts of clean electricity while also storing the region’s abundant wind and solar electricity to use when it is needed. The Goldendale Energy Storage Project is a “closed-loop” pumped hydro storage facility with an upper and lower reservoir where water is recirculated between the two reservoirs. During times of peak sun and/or high winds the plant uses surplus energy to pump water from the lower reservoir to the upper reservoir. Then, during peak demand hours, the water is returned by gravity to the lower reservoir passing through turbine generators that generate electricity. 

Closed-loop projects like the Goldendale project are carbon-free with minimal environmental impact. Also, the recent blackouts in California and Texas underscore the importance of large-scale energy storage projects like the Goldendale Energy Storage Project in maintaining a reliable electric grid.

This project also makes good economic sense.

It will create more than 3,000 family-wage jobs during its four-year construction period, and another 50 to 70 permanent jobs. Also, because the size and duration of the construction of the project it is an important opportunity for the building trades to add to our nation’s critically important skilled and technically trained workforce by training union apprentices. 

As our skilled workforce ages out, the building trades look for large projects that cover the 4- to 5-year duration of apprenticeship training programs. The Goldendale Project will also give those in the Gorge and surrounding rural areas an opportunity to enter these union training programs to be certified for a living-wage career. 

Finally, the Goldendale project aligns perfectly with the Biden administration’s focus on climate change and clean energy. The Goldendale Project will help the U.S. achieve broader goals like the emissions reductions included in the Paris Climate Agreement.

Washington state is leading the nation through meaningful steps to address climate change. We all must work together to support the utilities as they work through finding solutions that will provide carbon-free affordable power. And the utilities must properly consider reliable technology like the Goldendale Storage Project to supply their customers with the power we need.

- By Matthew Hepner – Certified Electrical Workers - Puget Sound Business Journal