On the road: harnessing the power of forests and renewable energy in Whatcom County

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On Tuesday, Gov. Jay Inslee traveled to Whatcom County where he highlighted a major conservation effort funded by the Climate Commitment Act to conserve 2,000 acres of mature, 'legacy' forestland across the state. By protecting these forests, which are between 80 to 150 years old, this conservation effort is helping set the stage for the recovery of old-growth forestland in Washington.

Large, mature forests provide vital habitat for animals and can help attenuate floods, landslides and droughts, all of which are becoming more common due to climate change. In Whatcom County, the governor had the opportunity to learn more about a parcel of the land being conserved: the 575-acre tract of forestland around the Lake Whatcom watershed. This forest helps maintain clean, healthy drinking water for more than 110,000 people, including Bellingham's residents. As they mature, forests become more efficient at fighting climate change. As the grow larger, trees serves as increasingly powerful engines pulling carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere and storing it.

Following the discussion regarding forest conservation, the governor met with members of the Nooksack Tribe, where he learned more about their foray into geothermal energy research. The Tribe is working with members of the Washington Geological Survey and other experts from state government to assess the feasibility of harnessing this powerful renewable energy source.

The governor also toured a series of projects harnessing different types of renewable energy and taking advantage of advanced energy efficiency appliances. He visited the Seedlings Early Learning Center in Bellingham, which received a $161,000 grant from the Department of Commerce last year to install an energy efficient heating system. The center serves 85 children, 33 of whom have their tuition paid by the state's Working Connections Childcare program.

The governor met with the team that recently completed development of the Millworks building at the Port of Bellingham's waterfront. This newly opened affordable housing apartment building run by Mercy Housing NW includes 83 affordable, energy-efficient apartment homes. Washington's Housing Trust Fund provided $5.4 million to Mercy Housing to support this project. The development has solar panels on the roof and access to energy generated by the excess ‘waste’ heat produced by a local powerplant. The excess heat is converted into electric heat and hot water for the building, and becomes a sustainable, affordable source of energy for residents.