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Rural Energy Leadership in Goldendale, Washington

Christian Carvajal

When the Hospital Survey and Construction Act, also known as the Hill-Burton Act, was signed into law by President Truman in 1946, the first Washington community to take advantage of its grant funding was Goldendale. It’s the seat of Klickitat County, on the east end of the Columbia River Gorge, with a population of about 3,600. Goldendale used that money to build its regional hospital, Klickitat Valley Health (KVH). “Over the years,” says Jonathan Lewis, director of support services for KVH, “the hospital has grown to take on more services and do more things, but the core of the building is still from 1949. 

The main thing we’re trying to mitigate right now is an electrical system that was put in in the ’60s and has some safety issues. We bought a couple of two-stroke diesel generators from World War II surplus, and those are supporting the north side of the hospital campus.” Those generators have aged out and need replacement, at a cost around $10 million. How could such a venerable facility be updated for contemporary needs in a community where asking for extra bond money is virtually impossible? 

Jonathan Lewis
“It really blew me away how well it went... We were able to bring in the Departments of Commerce and Ecology, the Yakama Nation, the USDA, FEMA, and a number of EDA and other agency people. CSI did an incredible job of putting that together and helping us build relationships with all those agencies. Almost directly from that, and really, really, fast, we got an almost $700,000 grant from the USDA to remodel our hospital kitchen, which wasn’t even on our list."

JONATHAN LEWIS

Director of Support Services at Klickitat Valley Health

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After all, the Goldendale Aluminum plant closed in the early 2000s. Along with the decline of the logging industry, about 1,700 county residents were left out of work. “That was really devastating,” Lewis recalls. “When clean energy came around, a lot of people in the community saw that as an opportunity to put people back to work.” The county now prides itself as a pioneer in green, “clean tech.”

“Klickitat County was trying to make itself known as a green energy producer,” adds Larry Bellamy, former city administrator for Goldendale. “One of our strategic development tenets was to use our clean energy to help the hospital’s aging heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning systems.”

In support of that effort, the Center for Sustainable Infrastructure (CSI) partnered with the U.S. Economic Development Administration (EDA) to use value-planning to find multi-benefit, community-driven solutions. “They didn’t just come in with their own experts,” says Lewis. “They gathered the community together to find other entities that might have problems.” That collaboration, which included local farmers, Goldendale School District, the City, Klickitat County, and others, created a bold new vision of a “Goldendale Energy Exchange” where thermal energy is captured and shared around Goldendale and disaster-proof power is generated from renewable sources, benefitting the hospital, schools, and other community facilities such as the local pool and the City’s industrial park. In 2021, with leadership from Rep. Gina Mosbrucker, the legislature gave Klickitat County $3 million for green hydrogen fuel cells, taking the first step in building the Goldendale Energy Exchange.

Inspired by what CSI had learned about “industrial symbiosis” (the sharing of resources and reusable waste products within a community) from experts in Kalundborg, Denmark, Goldendale hoped to apply those same principles in its own hospital improvement plan. “That sort of thing is pretty far outside the norm for a small, rural hospital,” acknowledges Lewis. “We all agreed that as we’re working on our individual building projects, we’ll design them in such a way that they can be tied together in the future.”

With the Energy Exchange as the anchor project, CSI then organized a virtual Regional Economic Development Summit, or REDS, in September of 2021, which brought federal and state funding agencies to understand and support the Exchange and other regional priorities. “What I got out of it,” recalls Bellamy, “was there are a lot of people inside and outside our community who really want to see our community succeed. They were diligent in their pursuit of ways we could collaborate. KVH employs almost 300 people. That’s a big part of our economic base.”

“It really blew me away how well it went,” Lewis agrees. “We were able to bring in the Departments of Commerce and Ecology, the Yakama Nation, the USDA, FEMA, and a number of EDA and other agency people. CSI did an incredible job of putting that together and helping us build relationships with all those agencies. Almost directly from that, and really, really, fast, we got an almost $700,000 grant from the USDA to remodel our hospital kitchen, which wasn’t even on our list. FEMA got us in touch with the state emergency management people, who got us lined up to apply for a hazard mitigation grant for the full microgrid project. Now people in the community are thinking outside the box to find ways we can collaborate.”

Goldendale hopes to break ground on its 21st-century microgrid in only a couple of years. “CSI knew the right questions to ask,” says Bellamy. “They helped me frame the discussion around things that were important to our community and kept things going in a meaningful way. They were great facilitators in that regard.”