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Tenino Works with Portland-Based Nonprofit to Create Renewable Energy Economy ‘Living Lab’

Katie Hayes | The Daily Chronicle
Jan 18, 2019

The city of Tenino, Tenino School District and a Portland-based nonprofit are spearheading a more than $10 million project that would turn the school district into a regional hub for training in renewable energy technology.

The project is called “Tenino Innovation and Education through Renewables,” or TIER. Essentially, it would turn Tenino into a “living lab” and show how a small town could move to a renewable energy economy through power grid modernization.

“It’s kind of a cool transition when you talk about transitioning from fossil fuels to renewable energy — that this area was a huge part of the fossil fuel industry, and we’re able to take that, and support that transition, and be an example of how that can be done successfully,” said Tenino City Council member Dave Waterson.

The TIER Advisory Committee includes representatives from the Tenino School District, the city of Tenino, South Sound Solar, Bonneville Environmental Foundation (BEF) and PECI. The team behind the project has also included Centralia College and Washington State University.

“The simple explanation (of TIER) is we have emerging technologies that are technologies of the future,” said Tenino School District Superintendent Joe Belmonte. “We want our kids to have access to them and we want to make sure that those kids have opportunities that are hands on. If we have solar rays, and alternative energy, and microgrids and all of those kinds of things here that kids can access … it’s not abstract — it’s hands on.”

In September 2017, Tenino School District installed solar panels on its high school. Waterson, Belmonte and President of South Sound Solar Kirk Haffner put a grant application together for TransAlta and matched the grant with another from the Washington State Department of Commerce. 

“When we installed the solar (system) in the school, one of my things was I wanted students to be aware of it besides just seeing it there,” Waterson said. “I wanted them to be able to see how much power it’s putting out — just to start being aware of other forms of energy, and how it works and what it means. That was kind of just a basic, ‘Let’s put this on the school and make students aware of it’ and we built on that.”

Waterson said this is how the TIER project originated. After the solar panel project, Tanya Barham, director of operations & product development at PECI, reached out to Waterson and Belmonte. PECI is a Portland-based nonprofit that, according to its website, aims to build resilient community energy systems. […]