Washington State’s Vision for Energy System Transformation

In April, Commerce’s Director, Brian Bonlender spoke at the IEEE-Northwest Energy Systems Symposium. The following is our summary of his speech.

He discussed the many changes occurring in the electric energy industry. In Washington, we have a vision for our energy future—choosing strong, progressive policies based on what makes sense for our state and regional energy systems, environment and the long-term sustainability of our economy.

The changes shaping Washington’s electric systems today include:

  • Market forces. Clean, renewable electricity technologies have seen large price decreases. Bloomberg Energy noted that over the last decade, the price of solar modules has declined by 92 percent.
  • Resilience. Climate change is reshaping how we change our electricity infrastructure, with electricity resilience as the major goal of system development. Deploying microgrids and increasing distributed and clean energy technologies are of the greatest importance.
  • Risk-sharing between states and utilities is growing. Thanks to the clean energy of our hydroelectric system, Washington has the lowest electricity prices in the U.S. We are able to integrate power from intermittent, renewable sources. Our culture values our clean power system and is working to make the future system better.

Thinking globally is a hallmark of Washington state energy policy. Promoting clean energy policies continues to be a top priority, tapping business and industry to help imagine the possibilities and take hold of economic opportunities. The focus to move Washington forward to a low-carbon economy is driving our energy investments.

The legislature established the first Washington Clean Energy Fund in 2013, investing in research, development and demonstration of clean energy technologies. The projects we fund reduce harmful carbon pollution, reduce energy costs, save energy and help create jobs.

The Clean Energy Fund is taking us toward new ways to integrate intermittent renewables in our evolving hydroelectric system. The smart grid technologies focus on demonstrating as many different types of battery chemistries and storage systems as possible. Importantly, the projects include collecting data to compare the range of uses in real-world scenarios. The state’s initial investment in grid modernization has leveraged upward of $100 million in additional investment.

The value of public-private collaboration in Washington helps us stand out among other efforts around the nation. We are not looking at technology just for technology’s sake. We are looking at what makes sense in support of the transformation of our electric system. No other state has the same combination of shared vision, environmental values and culture of innovation that Washington state has.

The recent legislative session provided more money and added two new programs, solar grants, which focus on community solar; and electrification of transportation grants that will go to local governments and electric utilities to work with research organizations and business.

From the state perspective, we will continue an open, independent path towards a clean energy future and we will look at how this strengthens all of our communities.

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