Walla Walla group hopes to cash in on wind energy

The five counties represented by the partnership are home to 10 wind farm projects.

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WALLA WALLA -- A new economic development partnership will explore whether the area's renewable energy industry has the power to bring new 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, according to an announcement.

The most immediate focus will be expanding the region's wind resources, including the supply chain, said Port of Walla Walla Executive Director Jim Kuntz. 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.

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

The Port's economic development director, Paul Gerola, will represent that agency in the alliance. The Southeast Washington Economic Development Association, the Port's counterpart serving Asotin, Columbia, Garfield and Whitman counties, will be represented by that agency's executive director, Duane Wollmuth.

In the announcement last week Wollmuth said the collaboration between the agencies is an example of working smarter during tough economic times. The organization will attend a wind-energy trade show late this month in Anaheim, Calif.

In a prepared statement with the announcement, 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 -- www.SEWRED.com. The organization will also work through partnerships with Walla Walla Community College, which now offers a wind technology program, and Washington State University.

"These schools are a major contributor to our local economies, as they provide both work force training and ongoing research for renewable energy companies," Wollmuth said in the announcement.

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