2010 energy conference to draw hundreds to Tri-Cities

An energy conference in February could bring 800 people to the Tri-Cities and generate about $315,000 in visitor spending, officials with the Tri-Cities Visitor and Convention Bureau said Tuesday.

Climate Solutions, facilitator of the annual Harvesting Clean Energy Conference, decided to hold the event at the Three Rivers Convention Center in Kennewick because of the Tri-Cities’ concentration of clean energy companies, said Rhys Roth, Climate Solutions’ director of strategic innovation.

The conference should run February 7-9. The Tri-Cities Visitor & Convention Bureau learned about a month ago the conference will be in the Tri-Cities, but released the information Tuesday after contracts were finalized.

A local steering group with members from the Tri-Cities Visitor & Convention Bureau, Benton PUD, Energy Northwest, Franklin PUD, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and other organizations worked for about a year with Climate Solutions to bring the conference to the Tri-Cities.

By December, the group was confident Climate Solutions would choose the Tri-Cities, said Gretchen Strother, director of sales for the Visitor & Convention Bureau.

Roth described the conference, which is in its 10th year, as an opportunity to foster rural economic development by bringing agriculture and clean energy production entities together.

The speeches and breakout forums are geared toward farmers, ranchers, and other rural landowners; agricultural organizations; public and private utilities; rural economic development leaders; local, state, federal and tribal officials; clean energy firms, consultants and supporters.

Each year, the conference’s location rotates between Washington, Idaho, Montana and Oregon.

From a business and utility standpoint, Debbie Bone-Harris of Franklin PUD, who worked with the steering committee, said the conference provides an opportunity for companies, organizations and individuals to collaborate on future energy projects.

For example, Roth said landowners can learn how to work with energy companies to get wind turbines on their land. Or organizations can learn how to better utilize biomass or solar energy.

From a tourism and visitor perspective, Visitor & Convention Bureau CEO and President Kris Watkins said the conference will showcase the Tri-Cities. “We’re always looking to promote activities in the Tri-Cities,” she said.

She hopes the hundreds of visitors plan future vacations to tour the area’s wineries or spend a weekend golfing. “The best marketing tool you can use is word of mouth.” Watkins said.

The conference last visited the Tri-Cities in 2002, Roth said, drawing about 200 people. Roth said the 700 to 800 expected visitors to the 2010 event would be a record.  “It’s sort of gradually grown each year,” he said.

Source: Tri-Cities Herald    www.harvestcleanenergy.org/conference

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