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Harnessing the Wind

Looking out from her office window in Port Angeles, Washington, toward the Strait of Juan de Fuca that separates Canada from the United States, Jennifer States talks quickly and with such excitement that one word tumbles over another and vibrates with energy.

“I was always passionate about the environment,” Jennifer says. “I grew up in a farming community in Nebraska with wind turbines on every farm. I majored in politics and government in school, but when I got out, I did some work for the Sierra Club, then started my own consulting firm.” Clients were few, but one, the Union of Concerned Scientists, gave Jennifer the gravitas she needed to be invited as a speaker to a Kansas conference on small wind.

Starting a "wind group"

“I did the presentation and somebody in the audience from an urban renewal company in Germany actually asked me if I’d be interested in heading up a wind group in Kansas,” Jennifer says. She had no experience, but that wasn’t a deterrent. The company rep told her: “We’ve got the experience in Germany. We just need somebody who knows wind and politics in the Midwest.” Jennifer laughs. “And I’m all of 26 years old, right?”

So she packed a bag, headed for Lawrence, Kansas, and became the managing director of JW Prairie Wind Power. “Getting wind to Kansas became a passion,” Jennifer says. She hit the ground running, working on legislation, dealing with state legislators and pulling together testimony for their committees.

Going where the wind blows

“I turned out to be a natural at talking with policymakers,” she says. “I’d hear them, hear their concerns, listen to others, hear their concerns, then figure out how one policy or another could be good for everyone.”

Unfortunately, Kansas rejected wind. So, Jennifer started thinking about another job. But just as she was about to begin making calls, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, a U.S. Department of Energy research lab based in Richland, Washington, recruited her as its program manager. She accepted, moved to Washington with her husband, and took on the responsibility of developing wind and water-power business.

Moving into public policy

“After a year on the job, I was asked to do an assignment in Washington, D.C.,” Jennifer says. The Obama administration had just come into office and they needed help. “I got a call from the Secretary of Energy’s office. We were in a recession and he wanted to know why renewable energy projects—wind, solar, hydro—weren’t being built.” Jennifer had 24 hours to find out, do some research, develop recommendations to rectify the situation and write them up.

“A month later, I could see the language I came up with in the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act.” She smiles. “The president signed it on my birthday.”

Rising star

As a result of her work, over 20,000 renewable energy projects were funded—and Jennifer received the Women of Wind Energy Rising Star Award. Several other assignments to governmental hot spots to solve energy problems kept Jennifer flying back and forth between the nation’s capital and her home with her husband in Washington state. Eventually, though, “I began to feel as though I were a bureaucrat pushing paper. I just wasn’t pursuing my passion anymore. And I missed my home.”

Closer to home

Today, back at home in Washington and with her cross-country flights behind her, Jennifer is the director of business development for the Port of Port Angeles and about to create an infrastructure that will stimulate growth of the area’s airport, marina, boat haven and deep-water terminals. It will also bring in a complex network of businesses, technology and skilled workers, providing the infrastructure necessary to support a floating offshore wind platform that will generate a significant amount of electric power for the nation’s West Coast.

Looking out over a waterway that leads to the Pacific Ocean, Jennifer can see the sun setting in the west and envision a floating platform of wind turbines that will power the United States—and her passion—into the future.

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