ARLINGTON — Washington state Gov. Jay Inslee was joined by Arlington Mayor Barbara Tolbert and other Arlington city officials as he officially dedicated the new location of OutBack Power Technologies in the Arlington Advanced Manufacturing Park with representatives of its company parent, the Alpha Group, on Thursday, Aug. 22.
OutBack Power has grown so much, since its founding in Arlington in 2001, that it required commuting up and down the east side of the Arlington Municipal Airport to reach all of its divisions, before its employees moved into their current offices three months ago, which has allowed them all to work from the same site.
While Mara White of OutBack's product development was proud to tout the ever-escalating popularity of its three-day, 17-credit training course for solar power installers, OutBack applications engineer Mark Mays explained to Inslee how the company is developing new applications for solar power products, including an alternating current coupling system that allows a grid-tied power inverter to substitute for the utility's power grid when the power grid has been knocked out.
"If there's something like a hurricane, a homeowner with solar power might say, 'Hey, what happened to my power?'" Mays said. "That power can become trapped on their roof, because the grid-tied inverter is required by law not to back-feed into the grid when it goes down, just in case people are working on the lines. But with an AC coupling, the inverter can disconnect from the grid when it goes down, but stay connected to the house, feeding it direct current power when the sun's in the sky and AC power from the battery when the sun goes down. It basically becomes the grid when the grid is down."
"Arlington can become the Middle East of power," said Inslee, who described the growth potential of the clean and renewable energy field as revolutionary in scope, and characterized Arlington as a world leader in innovations in that field, thanks to OutBack and the Alpha Group. "That power won't come from below our feet, but from above our shoulders."
Inslee praised the intelligence and vision of OutBack and the Alpha Group in contributing to a trend that he sees leading to more clean energy jobs, more high school job training programs and more use of clean energy, particularly because of OutBack's relatively unique specialties in the market.
"The key to broad adoption of renewable energy is the ability to store it, and there's not many players in this game," said Inslee, before he pointed to an OutBack monitor showing 783 watts of solar power per square meter in Bellingham. "That's free energy, falling on the land, that's good for another 4 billion years," he laughed. "We have to capture intermittent power sources like solar, and integrate them with sources like hydroelectric and wind power."
Inslee cited the experience-tested use of such solar power systems in developing nations, where neither public utilities nor power grids can necessarily be taken for granted, and asserted both the financial and the environmental benefits of solar power.
"Your economic success creates jobs, but it's also a moral success," said Inslee, who noted that clean energy avoids the effects of air pollution, the decrease in snowpacks and the increasing acidity of the waters from which fish and oysters are harvested. "So I want to thank you, on behalf of my grandkids, for giving them the fishing, the skiing and the oysters that we've enjoyed in this state."
Inslee reported that the most recent state Legislative session yielded $40 million for a clean air fund, which includes solar energy, as well as an increased tax incentive for renewable energy, plus $5 million for solar energy programs in the schools.
"Arlington has a rich history as a manufacturing center," Tolbert said, adding that the city is connected to an airport, a rail line and an interstate highway. "When Bayliner closed here in 2009, the job loss from one of the city's biggest employers deeply impacted our residents' quality of life. A focus on emerging manufacturing gave us a spark of hope for this facility, for which I have to give the city of Arlington's staff kudos. It's been an amazing transformation."
When the Arlington Advanced Manufacturing Park opened on the former Bayliner manufacturing campus last year, OutBack General Manager Harvey Wilkinson was one of the first people Tolbert called, since he'd been coping with a company that had grown so big that it was split up into multiple facilities. For his part, Wilkinson expressed his appreciation not only to Tolbert and Inslee, but also to the state Department of Commerce and Economic Alliance of Snohomish County for their support.
"Our move into a larger facility better positions us to hire talented employees, design and test new products, train electrical and energy professionals in grid-smart technologies, and support and promote more environmentally friendly living," Wilkinson said.
According to White, OutBack currently employs 64 people, a full third of whom work in its engineering department, and she projected that its number of employees would continue to grow by 20 percent.
"This is the coolest thing I've gotten to do as governor in quite some time," said Inslee, as he joined Alpha Group CEO, Chair and founder Fred Kaiser — as well as Alpha Technologies President and COO Drew Zogby and Altair Advanced Industries CEO and Chair Grace Borsari — in cutting the ribbon to OutBack Power Technologies' facility in Suite B at 17825 59th Ave. NE in Arlington.