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Oregon: Clean Tech and Related Manufacturing Lead Incentives and Job Growth

Dec/Jan 10
According to financial forecaster Moody's, Oregon is one of the first five states expected to see job growth, starting in the last quarter of 2009. Targeted investments in clean technologies provide good medicine for Oregon's healthy financial future. Out of the approximately $1 billion in federal stimulus funds received in 2009, $115 million has been spent on clean tech projects, according to Marc Zolton, public affairs manager for Business Oregon (formerly the Oregon Business Development Department). In addition, $170 million in stimulus funds were awarded to Oregon companies for clean tech projects, including wind farms, advanced battery manufacturing facilities, solar energy grid integration systems, and woody biomass projects. Besides clean energy, the state is also focused on wood and forestry products, advanced manufacturing, high technology, and outdoor gear and activewear.

Eastern Oregon is primed for wind energy development due to the atmospheric conditions in the eastern Columbia Gorge. Solar manufacturing is concentrated in the Willamette Valley, including the Portland metro area, due primarily to its proximity to the Interstate 5 transportation corridor. Outdoor gear and activewear is concentrated in Portland and the Bend area of central Oregon and in Hood River in the Columbia Gorge. Forestry and wood products are found in all areas of the state outside of Portland, while advanced manufacturing and high-tech companies are clustered in the Portland metro area and the northern Willamette Valley.

Incentives target alternative-energy niches. During the 2009 session, the Oregon Legislature passed HB 3039, establishing the first statewide feed-in tariff in the United States for photovoltaic systems. The legislation directed the Public Utility Commission (PUC) to establish a pilot feed-in tariff for each investor-owned utility. Also, the Business Energy Tax Credit (BETC) has benefited the renewable energy/clean tech sector.  

Swiss battery company ReVolt Technology Ltd., selected Portland for its new facility. According to James P. McDougall, the firm's CEO, "After the development phase of our large-form factor battery is completed, we [will] begin scaling elements of that system for production at this location." He further clarifies, "This is not a relocation from Switzerland." He says ReVolt chose Oregon in part because of a "significant and demonstrated commitment throughout corporations, utilities, academic and governmental leadership and general public for deploying clean technologies," plus a well-educated work force and well-defined economic development policy for both R&D and production activities.

Germany-based photovoltaic firm SolarWorld is adding a 210,000-square-foot second facility on its Hillsboro campus to house module assembly lines, the last step in the production of finished solar panels. The expansion, which comes just a year after the company's launch in Hillsboro, will make SolarWorld the only company to sell solar panels made entirely in Oregon, starting from the first step of growing crystals out of silicon.

Bob Beisner, a vice president at SolarWorld USA, says that enterprise zones, the personal property tax abatement, business energy tax credits, and location were vital factors in locating the project. "We are located in the silicon forest, so our neighbors are big semiconductor companies," he says. "A tremendous amount of talent and infrastructure were already in place. Microelectronics programs were already developed at community colleges, so they were able to convert them to solar quickly." The site was originally a semiconductor manufacturing facility, offering the firm 100 acres of space and electrical availability. According to Beisner, suppliers to the semiconductor and solar energy industries are very similar, "almost identical in terms of what we need and what already existed, so we didn't need much infrastructure brought in."

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