Environment Oregon
The Statesman Journal
Brock Howell

A book on the electronics genius Nikola Tesla sits on a table. Engineers bend metal into smooth contours. Programmers finish design details. A tour guide pounds a piece of plastic, demonstrating its safety benefits. A sleek, dark blue electric vehicle rests in the workspace, inspiring Oregon's first plug-in electric vehicle manufacturer, Arcimoto Inc., to dream big.

Founded in 2007, Arcimoto Inc. expects to build its first 500 cars by the end of the year. This will mean new jobs for a community that, like many across Oregon, is struggling because of business downsizing and closure. With lots of work, a little luck and the help of strategic incentive programs like the Business Energy Tax Credit (BETC), Arcimoto Inc. could be the next Nike or Intel.

The promise and challenge of Arcimoto Inc. reminds me of why BETC is such a critical tool to jumpstarting Oregon's emerging businesses and the overall economy. Thanks in part to the expansion of the BETC in 2007, the number of green jobs in Oregon has doubled and we now lead the nation in green jobs per capita.

Oregon has quickly become America's capitol for solar manufacturing and will soon be home to the world's largest wind farm. But Oregon's current financial crisis has forced the Legislature to make some hard choices in order to balance the state's budget.

House Bill 3680, passed this month by the Oregon House of Representatives, will scale back many provisions of the BETC. Through the end of this biennium, House Bill 3680 will save the state budget $183 million, roughly the same as the projected state deficit. House Bill 3680 provides taxpayers with the certainty needed to know the state budget will be balanced.

Environment Oregon supports the leadership of Rep. Phil Barnhart, Sen. Ginny Burdick and Gov. Kulongoski to work to ensure that the BETC will deliver the biggest bang for the buck. We strongly encourage the Senate to support House Bill 3680 in its current form.

That said, the BETC restructuring embodied in House Bill 3680 will likely have a significant impact on Oregon's clean energy future. Solar, wind, biomass and weatherization projects simply will not get built. Manufacturing and installation jobs will be foregone. New businesses will not start up in our communities. And we risk losing our place at the head of the pack in the clean energy economy.

Just because Oregon is currently one of America's clean energy economy leaders does not mean we have won our fight to attract clean energy businesses and jobs. Chicago wants to take our businesses. Texas is more committed to wind. California is more committed to solar. China is out-investing everyone. We must continue to maintain our leadership.

HB 3680 is a needed restructuring of the BETC in tough economic times. But it shouldn't be the end of the conversation. In a time of double-digit unemployment, Oregon has a choice of whether we want to buy wind power or generate wind power, buy solar panels or manufacture solar panels and buy plug-in cars or sell plug-in cars.

And that choice is the difference between families that can count on jobs, communities that are home to new businesses, utilities and consumers that have abundant and affordable power and a strong climate legacy for future generations.

Brock Howell of Portland is an advocate with Environment Oregon.