Record to sponsor Clinton forum on renewable energy

Take it from a guy who made a good living looking ahead: The future of renewable energy is now.

“Here’s something that a few short years ago was an idea, and now it’s reality,” said Andrew “Andy” Wappler, former TV weatherman and now senior public relations consultant for Puget Sound Energy.

“We have a great opportunity to live smarter and live better,” he said.

Wappler is one of three featured speakers who will take part in a renewable-energy forum later this month in Clinton, sponsored by the South Whidbey Record.

The forum will be 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, April 29, at Clinton Community Hall, 6411 Central Ave.

“I know that many of our readers are interested in renewable energy,” said Marcia Van Dyke, publisher of the Record. “We’ve put together a panel that can really talk about what’s going on in the field locally, regionally and globally.”

Joining Wappler on the panel will be Michael Payne of Langley, general manager for strategy and portfolio with Shell WindEnergy. He has worked to develop utility-scale wind projects throughout the world.

“Large-scale wind systems are the most cost-effective way to produce carbon-free energy,” Payne said. “Utility-scale wind will deliver most of our gains in reducing carbon power.”

Also participating in the forum will be Lori Christian, of Whidbey Sun and Wind, an eight-year-old renewable-energy company in Coupeville. She has been tracking federal and state legislation that would affect the industry.

“We’ve been in limbo for quite a while,” Christian said of the legislative process. “I’m hoping some of these bills will be wrapped up so that we can move forward.”

Wappler joined Bellevue-based PSE last year after 14 years as chief meteorologist for KIRO-TV in Seattle. His father, also Andy, had the job for years before that.

“We were getting it wrong for a generation and a half,” Wappler said with a chuckle about the family’s weather-forecasting prowess.

In his current job, he specializes in getting the word out on renewable-energy sources and natural gas and electric conservation, and heads up PSE’s speakers bureau.

Wappler said PSE has the second-largest wind-power operation in the United States. He said two current systems in Eastern Washington generate enough carbon-free electricity to accommodate the needs of 100,000 homes.

He said a third project, being built in the lower Snake River area, will be able to power another 300,000 homes.

While PSE has no wind projects on Whidbey Island, it is hooking up to more and more individual renewable-energy systems, such as roof-top solar panels, Wappler said.

He said PSE has just awarded a $26,000 grant to the Coupeville School District for a 1.5-kilowatt solar-panel system to be installed on the roofs of the high school and middle school.

Along with the panels will be special classroom software to allow students to monitor the effectiveness of the project, he added.

Wappler said PSE’s renewable-energy goal is two-fold: to develop new ways to generate carbon-free electricity, and to develop new ways to use it wisely.

“If we’re going to find new ways to make power, we need to be smart about how we use it to take full advantage,” he said.

In his job with Shell, Payne has focused on all aspects of developing utility-strength wind systems in the U.S. and Canada.

Before joining Shell in 2002, he spent six years based in The Netherlands, managing wind-system developments in Europe and Asia.

He also has held various other positions related to wind, solar, gas and power businesses.

Payne and his family moved to Whidbey Island last year.

He said wind power on a large scale is here to stay.

“In terms of the challenges we face as a society, there’s a need for more technology in the future,” he said, “but large-scale wind is here and available today to reduce our reliance on carbon.”

“We also need to be changing our behavior in a number of ways,” he added.

Christian said one of the key pieces of legislation pending in the state Legislature is a bill to extend the sales-tax exemption on renewable-energy projects. The current exemption expires in June.

The exemption covers wind systems, solar electricity and solar hot water — “basically all renewable-energy systems,” she said.

“At 8.4 percent, that’s a lot of money on a $200,000 system,” Christian said.

Other bills she’s tracking are one that would define what a renewable-energy system is, and one that would provide incentives for the amount of electricity produced.

Christian emphasizes the big picture when thinking about renewable energy.

She points to the Island of Samso, in Denmark, which through renewable energy has increased its production to meet 140 percent of its power needs in only 12 years — “nothing short of amazing.”

“It’s important to hold a large vision,” Christian said. “Sustainability and self-reliance are going to be increasingly important, and renewable energy is a key piece of that.”

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