Bob Ferguson

Bob Ferguson of Richland has donated $500,000 as an initial step to develop an energy institute at Washington State University Tri-Cities.

RICHLAND — Washington State University Tri-Cities is on its way to having an energy institute to analyze the best ways for clean energy production to grow in the area and to educate workers for the industry.

“We need to develop an infrastructure of new kinds of energy jobs in the Tri-Cities,” said Bob Ferguson, a long-time leader in economic development in the Tri-Cities and a national nuclear authority.

He has donated $500,000 for the project.

It will pay for WSU Tri-Cities’ first endowed faculty position in energy and environment, the first step in creating the institute.

The donation will be used as leverage for a plan to raise $2 million in additional funding to create an energy research hub on the Richland campus.

“The professorship and institute will focus on partnerships for research in the energy industry, fostering community discussions and relationships for policy development at the state and national levels,” said Sandra Haynes, WSU Tri-Cities chancellor.

Ferguson says that he’d like to see a graduate degree offered for students studying the complex economic, political, technical and social issues of global climate change.

The Tri-Cities already is an energy hub with 40% of Washington state’s power produced within a 100-mile radius of the Tri-Cities. It includes nuclear, wind, solar and hydro production.

And power production is set to grow.

What could be the nation’s first commercial advanced nuclear power reactor would be built and operated near Richland.

X-energy, of Rockville, Md., is working with Energy Northwest of Richland and Grant County PUD to develop, build and operate an 80-megawatt nuclear power reactor on leased land at the Hanford nuclear reservation.

South of the Tri-Cities, Scout Clean Energy has applied for a Washington state permit to develop a wind farm stretching 24 miles along the Horse Heaven Hills .

The institute would analyze available and proposed energy resources to help the region plan and develop those that are needed and would be best for carbon-free energy, Ferguson said.

Had such an institute been in place in the 1980s, plans would not have been made by the Washington Public Power Supply System to build five nuclear reactors at once, said Ferguson, who served for a time as WPPSS chief executive.

Just one of the reactors, the Columbia Generating Station near Richland, was completed.

He believes that if the institute were in place today it would show that the proposed Horse Heaven Wind Farm would provide power that is surplus to the area.

Ferguson’s career in nuclear energy began as a reactor physicist and operations supervisor at the Hanford site’s B Reactor. He was deputy assistant secretary of nuclear programs for the Department of Energy, before taking the position with WPPSS, now Energy Northwest.

He has founded and developed Tri-Cities area companies focused on nuclear waste management, environmental consulting and nuclear safety training.

He and two other Tri-Cities business leaders successfully sued the federal government in 2010, forcing it to resume the licensing review of Yucca Mountain, Nev., for disposal of the nation’s high level radioactive weapons waste and used commercial nuclear fuel.

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