Bet On Oregon’s Clean Future

by | Sep 17, 2008

I’m putting my money on Oregon to be one of the strongest environmental leaders among all 50 states in the battle against climate change.

I recently sat down at a Portland coffee shop with David Van’t Hof, the renewable energy and sustainability adviser to Oregon Governor Ted Kulongoski. I first witnessed Dave in action on a huge dais during the Western Climate Initiative (WCI) August meeting in San Diego. He was clearly one of the most respected speakers there, explaining the details of WCI’s new cap-and-trade emissions program for regulating greenhouse gas emissions.

“Why not wait for the feds to act on climate change so business has an equal playing field to act on?” I asked. He said, “Governor Kulongoski believes we have a moral imperative to act immediately. Further, he believes designing and implementing the WCI cap-and-trade program is driving the policy debate at the federal level, putting Oregon industry in a competitive advantage.”

Plus, the governor also sees clean energy as a huge economic opportunity for Oregon. “The last versions of Lieberman-Warner had significant carrots for states taking early action – hundreds of millions of dollars in federal emission allowances.”

Van’t Hof believes Oregon has always been a national leader in environmental protection and conservation, noting they were the first state in the country to implement a bottle bill for recycling. More recent, state leaders set a very high goal of a 25 percent renewable energy portfolio standard for Oregon.

Smart Business and Industry will bet on Oregon

Oregon makes the 2008 Top 10 list for State Business Tax Climate, according to the nonpartisan Tax Foundation in Washington, D.C. Their neighbor Washington is number 11, but California is at the bottom of the list at number 47. This may help encourage new clean tech start-ups to come to the Silicon Forrest instead of the Silicon Valley. Oregon has plenty of wind, solar and hydroelectric power and a large, high-tech talent pool.

Van’t Hof says, “We hope we’ll have a competitive advantage in terms of addressing energy efficiency. Plus, good state policies are encouraging new start-up manufacturing, from silicon production to photovoltaic manufacturing, to build facilities and create jobs here.”

Solar power has been state government’s main focus the last few years. Van’t Hof added, “We want Oregon to be the main solar manufacturing center in North America.”

Chipmaker Intel Corp. has invested $50 million into a Hillsboro solar energy business start-up venture SpectraWatt Inc., to manufacture photovoltaic cells, and is investing hundreds of millions into their “Sand to Sand” efficiency standards.

Despite all the super-greenness in Oregon, implementing the final legislation for cap-and-trade in Oregon may be difficult because of industry and environmental lobbyists. Rumor has it, an unprecedented coalition of business and industry is uniting to kill the governor’s cap-and-trade plan in the 2009 legislative session. Countering that are several very strong environmental organizations, and a five-county interstate energy team of elected officials who are lobbying federal officials for funding clean tech development.

“The NGOs raise some good points in why transportation should be brought in immediately, but overall, there hasn’t been a program in the E.U. or U.S. to broadly address cap-and-trade regulating (GHGs) from transportation sectors. We’re trying to be somewhat cautious in terms of how broadly and how quickly we do that. If we can start with industry and utilities, we can get our arms around that, and then get transportation and home heating fuel second in a few years.”

It only takes one visit to Oregon to see just how green policy decisions in the 1990s are paying off now:

  • Portland area’s Tri-Met runs one of the best transit systems I’ve ever seen including light rail, a streetcar and amazing bus system.
  • An estimated 19,000 commute to downtown via bicycles on special bike lanes on bridges over the Willamette River.
  • Oregon has one of the highest per-capita hybrid vehicle ownership rates; and an incentive package for promoting sale of plug-in hybrids is up for debate next year.
  • Oregon State University is a leader in wave energy research, helping develop the first commercial projects off the Pacific coast of Oregon.
  • A massive upgrade is underway for Portland’s underground wastewater pipelines, to protect water quality of the Willamette River.
  • A venture capital company is sponsoring a three-month boot camp for clean tech start-ups.
  • Portland City Council years ago established its own greenhouse gas reduction goal of 15 percent.
  • Curbside recycling and composting for business and residential is the rule instead of the exception.
  • Environmental activists have a huge, beautiful, LEED-certified meeting space thanks to the nonprofit EcoTrust. There, you’ll also find a Patagonia store and a Hot Lips organic pizza store.
  • Producer-responsibility laws provide free recycling of computers and televisions.
  • International wind turbine manufacturer Vestas has made Oregon their North American headquarters.
  • Van’t Hof recently partnered with the Oregon Wine Council to encourage sustainability among the state’s large wine industry.
  • Urban farming is a growing movement here.
  • They preach water conservation, even in the rain.

I’m so impressed by Oregon’s business and government leadership, I’m expanding our two companies there, opening a new West Coast office in Portland, Oregon by October 1. Last one to Oregon, shut the door. We don’t want to waste energy.

Kevin Tuerff is CEO of Green Canary Sustainability Consulting and cofounder of EnviroMedia Social Marketing.

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