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As ‘Cleanup to Clean Energy’ initiative moves forward, local community’s voice must be heard

Apr 22, 2024

Recent congressional hearings highlight community-led vision for the future of post-cleanup Hanford lands, as well as concerns with the Department of Energy’s current approach

In the months since the Department of Energy announced the Cleanup to Clean Energy (C2CE) initiative in the summer of 2023, a coalition including Energy Forward Alliance (EFA) and TRIDEC, in partnership with several local governments and utilities has been actively working to inform the Department of Energy (DOE) of our community-led vision for co-locating clean energy projects on Hanford lands with other critically important opportunities including energy-intensive, decarbonized industrial development, manufacturing, energy storage, and research and development.

Unfortunately, DOE’s current tact not only disincentivizes such investment opportunities, but it threatens to harm the community’s ability to build a robust, diversified post-Hanford cleanup economy for the future.

At the core of Cleanup to Clean Energy (a phrase coined by the Tri-Cities’ own Sandra Haynes, Chancellor of Washington State University Tri-Cities, and later adopted by DOE) is the Department’s proposal to lease up to 14,000 acres of land at the Hanford Site for the deployment of new sources of carbon pollution-free power – something we inherently support and believe has great promise for our region. But the key issue is the Department’s requirement that any such projects be removed prior to the end of the cleanup mission at Hanford. This approach is inherently rooted in short-term thinking – rather than taking a strategically-planned approach that would maximize our community’s capacity for future, lasting prosperity.

In meetings with senior DOE officials, they have acknowledged the merit behind the community’s proposal for co-locating new clean energy projects with decarbonized manufacturing and industrial uses – including the recognition that such a plan would significantly increase opportunities for job creation and economic development.

But in dictating that any such infrastructure be torn down in the future, they negate any realistic potential for significant investments being made on these lands. While solar panels can be removed relatively easily, a world-class decarbonized manufacturing plant – say for chemical, cement, or steel production – or an advanced modular carbon-free nuclear reactor, or a first-of-a-kind, emissions-free food processing facility simply could not. Nor would such an investment be made when constrained by a lease with a set expiration date!

This is why our coalition has urged the Department to consider the merit behind our proposal to lease or transfer some, if not all, of the 14,000 acres to the community to be master-planned. Using this long-term, community-driven strategy would provide the greatest chance for transformative success through impactful reindustrialization and clean energy deployment that could serve as a national and international model for deep decarbonization of emission-intensive industries.

As we have communicated to DOE, there are few – if any – places in the country where such a once-in-lifetime opportunity to build a master-planned clean energy and decarbonized manufacturing park would be possible. And there is likely nowhere in the country that has the available land, technical expertise, highly-skilled workforce, robust existing electrical transmission, and transportation infrastructure, all located right next to one of the nation’s top experts on clean energy, grid-scale energy storage, and the advanced grid – DOE’s own Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL).

In addition to clean energy projects, storage, and industrial co-location, we believe the lands can also be home to advanced demonstration projects, pilot deployments of new technologies, and additional research and technology uses – an opportunity to capitalize on further collaboration between industry and PNNL.

Since the initiative was launched, we have taken every opportunity to communicate our vision with the Department. Unfortunately, the final DOE request for project proposals does not reflect the community’s hopes – so we continue to underscore to the Department that this acreage represents the only land near the City of Richland that would be suitable for future clean industrial development. Should these lands be locked into leases with external parties, the Tri-Cities will be severely limited in our economic development and diversification efforts moving forward.

In recent weeks, Members of the Washington congressional delegation have had the opportunity to elaborate on the community’s strategic vision with U.S. Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm and echo the concerns with DOE’s current approach. On March 20, Congressman Dan Newhouse secured a commitment by the Secretary (6:45 mark) to “work with the Tri-Cities community to incorporate their requests and their concerns into these land-use decisions and truly, fairly assess all clean energy applications” regarding the C2CE initiative.

Recently, Senator Maria Cantwell also underscored the community’s concerns (54:50 mark) with Secretary Grandholm and highlighted the “massive leadership role on energy transformation” the Tri-Cities plays as a clean energy hub. She pressed on the need for DOE to recognize the community’s vision for a “broader range of clean energy development” than the current proposal adopts.

In a demonstration of our desire to partner with the Department, we have communicated our willingness to support the execution of near-term clean energy deployments on a partial, limited scale this year – per DOE’s plan – and have provided our backing for a limited number of specific project proposals. But this must be paired with a commitment by the Department to in turn partner with the local community on our long-term proposal to allow the local community to master-plan a large portion of these lands.

We know our Tri-Cities community – in collaboration with local governments, regional tribes, industry, community partners, and the Department of Energy – is best equipped to develop and deploy a truly impactful plan for these lands. The federal government must empower us to do so.

There is a route to supporting a successful C2CE initiative that serves as a win-win for everyone, including the Department, the Administration, and the local community. DOE must recognize our vision and commit to an active partnership to ensure this comes to fruition.

Sean V. O’Brien is Executive Director of the Energy Forward Alliance, a clean energy non-profit subsidiary of the Tri-City Development Council (TRIDEC).

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