Yesterday, Jay Inslee must have thought he had a great theme for a speech to take his mind off the trouncing that his party– and his priorities– had taken on Election Day. He would simply link the construction of the Grand Coulee Dam with the development of the Boeing Company to explain how clean energy can drive commerce.
In his speech at an energy conference, Inslee said, “The Grand Coulee Dam became an integral part of Washington’s world-class hydroelectric system, which attracted the aluminum industry to our state. This, in turn, provided an entrepreneur by the name of Bill Boeing the raw materials and power to build his first airplanes in a factory along the banks of the Duwamish.”
The problem with Inslee’s story is that it simply isn’t true. On a history test, he would have certainly flunked.
He sort of got the Grand Coulee part right – concrete was poured on it “nearly 80 years ago” in 1935, and the power it started generating in 1941 has been an economic driver for the people of the Northwest since then. However, it’s a bit strange for Inslee to spend his time promoting a dam, since thanks to Initiative 937 (which Inslee is proud to say he promoted in 2006), none of the hydropower produced at Grand Coulee qualifies as “renewable energy” under Washington law. Because, in Inslee’s world view, what could be renewable about gravity and water?
Additionally, folks familiar with the Boeing story might immediately recognize that in his speech Inslee is using the kind of fictional approach he deployed in his rarely-read and barely-selling book Apollo’s Fire (#1,267,200 in Books on Amazon). According to Wikipedia, Boeing actually opened the Duwamish plant that Inslee referenced in his speech during World War I, and had produced the “first modern airliner” – the Boeing 247 – in 1933, before ground was broken on Grand Coulee. Evidently, the company didn’t need that power to get off the ground.
And what about that entrepreneur, Bill Boeing, that Inslee said was provided the “power to build his first airplanes” by a dam that started generating power in 1941? Well, he left the company that bears his name in 1935, after the federal government forced Boeing to separate its plane building and airline operations. So, he never quite got to enjoy the fruit of the federal government’s investment in Grand Coulee.
But, for Inslee, pointing out actual facts would not have made quite as a good a speech.