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‘Center of the universe’

by JOEL MARTIN
Staff Writer | February 22, 2024 6:46 PM

MOSES LAKE — Grant County is the tip of the spear when it comes to clean energy, U.S. Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm said at a Moses Lake round table Thursday.

“Moses Lake, you guys are like the center of the universe,” Granholm said. “What is happening here? It is amazing.”

Granholm was in town with Washington Gov. Jay Inslee and Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Washington, to meet with leaders in Grant County’s industrial sector at Sila Nanotechnologies, followed by a tour of Group14’s manufacturing facility. Much of the discussion focused on the changes that clean energy, and in particular electric vehicles, are making in the economy.

“Former Vice President Gore wrote ‘An Inconvenient Truth,’” Inslee said. “But there's (also) a convenient truth, which is that our efforts to defeat climate change are creating jobs by the thousands. And to see this happening in Central Washington is such a joy. We're now witnessing the largest industrial revolution since the transition from the horse to the automobile.”

The visiting dignitaries extolled Moses Lake’s innovation in the field of clean energy. Both Sila and Group14 are developing methods of increasing electric vehicle battery storage by replacing graphite, which is imported from China, with American-produced silicon. Both companies also received $100 million grants from the Department of Energy through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, which Cantwell championed in the Senate.

“It's clear that Moses Lake and Grant County is becoming a hub for clean energy manufacturing driven in large part by the investments from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and other pieces of legislation,” Sila Head of Government Affairs Alex Fitzsimmons said. “So that creates many opportunities in terms of job creation and community engagement. But it also creates some challenges related to workforce development and building energy infrastructure transmission in particular.”

Sila recently signed partnerships with Big Bend Community College and with the Columbia Basin Technical Skills Center, said Sila Plant Manager Rosendo Alvarado. 

“If you look at the EV revolution, it really is starting here in Moses Lake from a supply chain standpoint,” Sila Head of Operations Chris Dougher said. “This is where the innovative materials will be made. But you can't do that without the people. So we're very excited about those partnerships. We believe that they will build the right talent pipeline that will support development and growth for individuals in the community, but also support the growth and expansion for Sila here (in) Moses Lake.”

Locally, Big Bend Community College President Sara Thompson Tweedy said she was excited about the opportunities the partnerships with Sila and Group14 will provide to BBCC students, many of whom graduated from local high schools.

“Being able to make sure that our students have the right skills to go into jobs here, that they're very relevant (is important),” Thompson Tweedy said. “But … we have a very large service district that will feed into this workforce pipeline. So (the) College in the High School (program) is really important. What we imagine and what we envision is that a high school student could graduate from high school with a certificate or a degree where they can walk right into a job at Sila.”

“It was said that we want to defeat climate change,” she said. “I want to defeat rural poverty. And this is one of the ways that we're doing this.”

Grant Public Utility District General Manager Rich Wallen and Bonneville Power Administration Vice President of Transmission Systems Operation Ricky Bustamante both stressed the importance of electricity transmission capability. Wallen said the last transmission line the PUD built was 40 miles long and took a decade to complete.

“Transmission permitting reform would be the biggest, single most thing that would it would help us today,” said Wallen. “When you think about permitting and building a … transmission line, and it taking a decade, we're just not going to get there.” 

“On this issue of permitting, on federal lands anyway, you should know that inside of the Biden administration, there is an executive order that is being prepared for an interagency shot clock on permitting on public lands,” Granholm said. “So that that 10-year number just cannot last.”

Inslee said the opportunities new industrial facilities present to produce materials in Central Washington and provide jobs is an economic opportunity that is important for the whole state.

“We've got this industrial revolution, which reflects what will be a $23 trillion global opportunity,” Inslee said. “We are now in a position as a nation to fight back against having lost so many jobs and lost our manufacturing spine. And so it's exciting that that here you guys in Moses Lake are really leading the way.”

Joel Martin may be reached at jmartin@columbiabasinherald.com.


Editor's note: An earlier version of this story gave Rosendo Alvarado's name incorrectly, It has been corrected above.

    U.S. Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm, left, and Sen. Maria Cantwell greet attendees before Thursday’s round table meeting in Moses Lake.
 
 
    From left: Grant PUD General Manager Rich Wallen, Grant County Economic Development Council Director Brant Mayo and Big Bend Community College President Sara Thompson Tweedy discuss the county’s diverse economy at the round table meeting Thursday at Sila Nanotechnologies.