Thursday, December 5, 2013

In the News: Renewable Energy in Washington

Environmental news outlets are buzzing today with the release of President Obama's memo ordering the federal government to increase its use of renewable energy.  By 2020, federal agencies will need to obtain 20% of their energy from renewable resources, which would triple the amount currently used.  Additionally, the President called for federal government buildings to be made more energy-efficient. 

Expanding the use of renewable energy is crucial in decreasing carbon dioxide emissions that lead to climate change, and also in protecting our environment from the damaging methods used to extract fossil fuels, which currently provide the majority of our nation's energy. Sometimes referred to as "fuels from heaven," energy sources such as wind, solar, hydroelectric, and tidal energy are all renewable, above-ground, readily available and do not call for the destructive mining and extraction techniques that their underground "fuels from hell" counterparts such as coal, oil, and natural gas require. 

How does Washington State stack up in our use of renewable energy? As you can see in the chart below from the US Energy Information Administration, our Ever"green" State produces well over 20% of our energy from renewable sources! 

Seattle's King 5 News recently aired an interesting special entitled "Beyond the Forecast: Power Play," which examined the use of three up-and-coming renewable energy sources in Washington: wind, solar, and tidal energy.  Here are some of the highlights:

Wind Energy

Wind energy is the fastest-growing form of renewable energy in the US, and accounted for more than 40% of newly installed energy last year.  Located mostly in Eastern Washington, our state's 14 wind farms currently operating or in development have the ability to provide a significant amount of electricity. For example, the Puget Sound Energy Wild Horse Wind Farm produces enough electricity to power 70,000 homes -- utilizing an average wind speed of merely 15 miles per hour!

Solar Power
Most people wouldn't consider Washington to be a prime candidate for solar power, considering the tendency of our weather to lean toward the grey and cloudy side of the spectrum.  However, even in rainy Seattle, solar power is thriving and growing!  Seattle is the proud home of the Bullitt Center, which has the distinction of being the greenest building in the world, largely due to its roof of solar panels that provide more than enough energy to power the six-story building.  The Seattle Aquarium is also making a statement by installing solar panels to support its commitment to protecting the marine environment, which is increasingly threatened by ocean acidification caused by CO2 emissions from fossil fuels. On a smaller scale, homeowners are taking advantage of tax credits and incentives to install solar panels on their homes, allowing them to produce their own electricity while also making a little cash when their panels produce "extra" energy that is fed back into the grid.

Tidal Energy

This form of renewable energy relies on turbines placed on the ocean floor to capture energy from the regular twice-daily tidal currents. This technology is still in development, but looks to be very promising for its reliability.  The Snohomish County PUD and the Department of Energy plan to place two turbines on the seafloor in Admiralty Inlet, with the goal of producing energy by 2015.

The King 5 News special also briefly mentioned hydroelectric power, which provides the majority of Washington's electricity.  Although hydroelectric power certainly falls in the "renewable" category, its "green-ness" has been debated due to the significant ecological impacts created when a river is dammed. Not only is the landscape transformed upstream and downstream of the dam, but all of the fish and wildlife species that rely on the river for survival are affected as well.

When one considers the many innovative opportunities for creating energy from renewable resources, President Obama's goal for the federal government to acquire 20% of its energy from renewable resources in the next six years seems absurdly low. Although every effort toward a renewable energy future should be applauded, our rapidly warming climate, rising seas, and acidifying oceans clearly warn that the future livability of our planet depends upon our society to move to 100% renewable energy-- and soon.

Lainey Piland photo
Ahhh, fuel from heaven indeed, and proof that renewables are the way to go... 
I think we would all prefer a "sun spill" over an oil spill any day!

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