New group to explore renewable energy industry


WALLA WALLA -- A new economic development partnership will explore whether the area's renewable energy industry has the power to bring ancillary businesses and jobs to the Valley.

The Port of Walla Walla and the Southeast Washington Economic Development Association have joined together in an alliance to promote the region's renewable energy resources, officials say.

The joint organization is called the Southeast Washington Renewable Energy District. Its purpose is to promote the development of wind, solar, biomass and other renewable energy resources.

"Wind energy is really a Southeastern Washington asset and something we should grow on," Port Executive Director Jim Kuntz said. "Any jobs created from this are good."

The most immediate focus will be expanding the region's wind resources, including the supply chain, Kuntz said. The operation of the region's wind farms requires service and maintenance, which means there may be an opportunity for wholesale parts and repair companies.

Port Economic Development Director Paul Gerola will represent that agency in the alliance. His agency's counterpart, the Southeast Washington Economic Development Association, was initially expected to be represented by its executive director, Duane Wollmuth. But Wollmuth has since resigned his post for a new job with the Walla Walla Valley Wine Alliance. The Southeast Washington agency serves Asotin, Columbia, Garfield and Whitman counties.

Port Commission President Mike Fredrickson said the formation of the alliance comes as Southeastern Washington becomes a major player in the nation's wind-energy industry.

The five counties represented by the partnership are home to 10 wind farm projects either already operating or under construction or permitting, he said. The projects have created hundreds of temporary construction jobs and more than 150 permanent operations jobs, as well as countless indirect jobs, he continued.

The alliance has already launched a website -- The organization will also work through partnerships with Walla Walla Community College, which now offers a wind technology program, and Washington State University.


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