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Originally published May 20, 2008 at 12:00 AM | Page modified May 20, 2008 at 11:39 AM

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Energy from wind power can also help state's students

When we hear people talk about climate change and reducing greenhouse gases, the focus is often on improving the future for our children.

Special to The Times

When we hear people talk about climate change and reducing greenhouse gases, the focus is often on improving the future for our children.

One effort already under way will help our children today as well.

In November 2006, Washington voters enacted Initiative 937, directing electric utilities to dramatically accelerate their investments in renewable energy. The Department of Natural Resources (DNR) was already well down the path set by I-937; we have hosted wind turbines on public state trust lands for five years.

These clean-energy projects do more than help utilities meet the initiative's requirement that 15 percent of Washington's energy be renewable by 2020; the revenues we collect from the wind farms help improve Washington's schools.

Beginning in 2003, wind power companies and the DNR collaborated on an ambitious program to lease selected state trust lands for wind-power generation. The two wind farms in operation in 2006 produced 450 megawatt-hours of electricity that year — enough to power more than 150,000 Pacific Northwest homes.

Another wind farm came on line in 2007, and DNR is currently in various stages of negotiation for 17 other leases. With mounting concerns about climate change and the need to diversify power supplies, the department and our industry partners are excited about greatly expanding DNR's wind-power program.

The leases we have let on state lands are not just about clean energy for the future.

DNR runs like a business, earning most of its revenue from responsible stewardship of state lands. Leasing land for wind farms is a growing part of that revenue. The income produced by the wind farms goes directly into the Common School construction account, which provides funding for school construction around the state.

Any Washington school district is eligible to receive funding, which his disbursed through a matching formula. Generally, poorer school districts receive more trust dollars per project than wealthier ones. This helps equalize the money received and distribute it to where it's needed most.

One of the most appealing aspects of wind farms is that they are compatible with other uses of the land. For example, crops can be cultivated and cattle can graze right up to the base of the turbines. Wildlife has been shown to be virtually unaffected and hunting continues unabated.

Interest by energy companies, such as enXco, in leasing state trust lands has grown dramatically in the past several years. Where more than one company is interested in leasing DNR land, the agency holds a public auction. The department selects the company that represents the best choice for the state, taking into account the money earned for the trust, the company's ability to perform and plans for adjacent lands, and its power-service contract with the utility it serves.

While wind farms require large spaces to operate effectively, the amount of land actually required for the turbines and associated facilities is really quite small. This feature makes wind-farm leasing particularly attractive, as it allows us to maximize our use while maintaining the integrity of the land.

Wind power is a mature technology that is uniquely suited to meet growing power needs while preserving our values. It is the world's fastest-growing source of electric power. And thanks to robust, high-tech turbines, rising utility interest and supportive government policies, the domestic wind-energy industry grew by an outstanding 45 percent in 2007.

For some, the most attractive feature of wind power is the reduction in greenhouse-gas emissions. For others it is the tax-free revenue to schools. Some like the fact that Washington is demonstrating the self-reliance needed to break our dependence on foreign sources of energy.

Crafting solutions that fulfill all of these goals requires working with people of many viewpoints. If we are to find environmental solutions that stand the test of time, that's the only way we'll be successful.

In the upcoming years, Washington will get more and more of its energy from wind power. Working together, the Department of Natural Resources and wind-power companies will continue to make sure that those projects help provide benefits to families and children — not just years from now, but today.

Jim Walker is vice chairman of the enXco board of directors and incoming president of the American Wind Energy Association. Doug Sutherland is Washington's commissioner of public lands.

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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