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Friday, June 2, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Energy, transportation talk of tech conference

Seattle Times business reporter

Some unusual cars pulled up to the curb at Microsoft's campus Thursday — three ultra-compact Smart cars that are enjoying brisk sales at a "green" dealership in Kirkland, a Volkswagen Jetta with an extra fuel tank for vegetable oil, and a plug-in hybrid that can get 100 miles per gallon.

The clean-burning and fuel-efficient cars were on display as part of a conference on "Future Trends in Energy, Technology and Transportation," co-sponsored by Microsoft and the Discovery Institute's Cascadia Center for Regional Development.

Yet even as the technology moves forward, some transportation problems still seem to be stuck in neutral. The biggest complaint many participants had was fighting gridlock over Highway 520 to get there.

"I would have happily paid $10 to get here on time as I was driving along at 5 miles per hour," said Ron Posthuma, assistant director of the King County Department of Transportation.

From his home in south Bellevue, said Bellevue Mayor Grant Degginger, "it took longer for me to get to Microsoft today than it usually takes me to get to downtown Seattle."

Speakers introduced some potential solutions to energy and transportation problems, including a master-planned eco-city, passenger ferries, improved bus service that functions as rapid transit, toll roads, magnetic levitation trains, biofuels and cutting-edge cars.

Gary Lawrence, urban strategies leader at global design firm Arup, described a project his firm has started in China as "the world's most ecological city." Dongtan Eco-City, on an island near Shanghai, integrates building design with transportation and renewable energy to minimize energy consumption and carbon emissions, he said.

The Pacific Northwest, with its history of harnessing resources like hydro power for electricity, has an opportunity to become a leader in creating new energy solutions, Sen. Maria Cantwell told the audience in a keynote address.

"In the blood of the Northwest is an understanding of how important energy is to our economy," she said.

For example, Columbia County, the second-poorest county in the state, is set to receive $1 million in tax revenue from wind-power projects, she said.

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Washington state companies are poised to be among the national leaders in biodiesel production next year, she said. Cantwell said Brazil this year ended its dependence on foreign oil, after building up its ethanol production and encouraging a shift to flex-fuel cars.

As part of legislation aimed to jump-start clean energy development, Cantwell proposes offering tax credits of up to 50 percent of the cost of alternative-fuel refueling stations, and requiring major oil companies to offer alternative refueling capabilities at half the stations they own by 2010.

Cars on display included DaimlerChrysler Smart cars sold by Green Car Co. in Kirkland, a modified Toyota Prius by CalCars Initiative that can be plugged in to a home electrical outlet to achieve 100 mpg and an AFS Trinity Extreme Hybrid with drive-train technology it says enables 250 mpg.

Kristi Heim: 206-464-2718 or kheim@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company

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