Friday, April 3, 2009
Oregon vies for green dollars
Portland Business Journal - by Erik Siemers Business Journal staff writer
Of all the “pots of money” in the $787 billion American Recovery & Reinvestment Act, perhaps none has more potential for Oregon than the one dedicated to clean energy.
There’s about $71 billion for investments in clean energy and energy efficiency within the massive federal stimulus bill. Climate Solutions, a nonprofit based in Olympia, Wash., estimates the Pacific Northwest could snag as much as $9.2 billion of that money.
While the federal government is funneling some of the money directly to states — $114 million is earmarked for Oregon for various energy programs — as much as 75 percent is up for grabs.
Oregon’s take could get as high as $2.8 billion, Climate Solutions estimates, split between $1.7 billion in direct spending through grants and loans and another $285 million from tax provisions.
Here’s a peek at a few projects that will determine how much cash ends up here.
A bioenergy park
Economic development officials in Lane County are scouting locations for a so-called “Bioenergy Park.” The project would host a collection of companies that make energy from common waste streams.
“You’re looking at the model of taking waste out of the waste stream and processing it locally to create jobs and using that energy locally,” said Mike McKenzie-Bahr, community and economic development coordinator for Lane County.
But, as with most startups, money remains a hurdle. The estimated $20 million cost of the project is about $5 million short.
The stimulus bill could help.
“We’re kinda hopeful that this is going to be looked upon as one of those top projects that agencies look at,” said Chris Beatty, president of Corvallis-based Trillium FiberFuels Inc.
Trillium, which hopes to develop a plant that will turn grass straw or other agricultural reside into fuel-grade ethanol, is one of three parts of the bioenergy park.
A second is Eugene-based Essential Consulting of Oregon, or ECOregon. The company wants to build a 1 megawatt electric generation plant fueled by biomethane created from organic materials.
The bioenergy park is also expected to include an undetermined biopellet operation to produce pellets made from a mix of wood and agricultural waste for use in wood stoves, fire places or industrial boilers.
Much of the money in the federal stimulus bill will subsidize new ideas, like the bioenergy park.
Portland has big plans to carve out a reputation as an aggressive adopter of plug-in electric vehicles.
Seemingly lost in the fray, however, has been Porteon Electric Vehicles Inc., a Northwest Portland company trying to raise funds to kick-start production of a line of $10,000 all-electric cars that go 35 mph.
Porteon President Brad Hippert hopes the federal stimulus bill will help grease the wheels, so to speak.
Whether the federal government will be willing to give money to a yet-to-be established car-maker, however, remains to be seen.
“You can’t count on it,” Hippert said. “It certainly would be fantastic if it happened, but it’s going to be a competitive process.”
Porteon — now in the middle of a $15 million round of financing — is going to try anyway, he said.
Oregon, perhaps more than other states, stands a strong chance on capitalizing on the $21 billion in direct spending and $2.5 billion in tax incentives in the federal stimulus for alternative vehicles.
About $300 million is for federal purchases of vehicles and another $2 billion will go toward battery research grants and loans.
The state and utilities like Portland General Electric Co. have already forged partnerships with major manufacturers Nissan and Toyota that include adding electric vehicles to their fleets. Chinese auto-maker BYD Auto has also cast an eye toward Portland as a test market.
Gov. Ted Kulongoski and PGE Chief Executive Jim Piro will test drive a prototype Nissan plug-in electric vehicle at a media event on Monday.
But perhaps the most immediate stimulus boost will come within the $400 million earmarked for projects for electric vehicle infrastructure investment.
Oregon on Wednesday became the first state in the nation to solicit bids from manufacturers for electric vehicle charging stations.
Hippert just hopes they’ll be driving Porteon vehicles to those stations.
The year didn’t start well at Newberg’s EnergyGuard Window & Door Replacement.
Darren Mankin’s 27-year-old window and door company began serving the Portland metro area about five years ago. Sales peaked at $1.5 million last year.
When the economy tanked, however, consumers stopped remodeling, pushing Mankin’s 2009 sales downward. Demand dropped to the point that Mankin dropped one of his two four-man installation crews.
Mankin said it would be much worse, if not for the federal stimulus bill.
Tax credits in the bill provide for 30 percent of the cost of installing windows that meet energy efficiency standards.
The tax credits, joined with manufacturer’s rebate programs and existing incentives from the Oregon Energy Trust, make it an opportunity some consumers have found difficult to pass up.
“It’s like wham, wham, wham, wham all the way through multiple incentives to buy,” Mankin said.
The federal stimulus has brought increased emphasis on investments in energy efficiency. The cash includes money for state government programs that aim to help homeowners invest in weatherizing their homes.
The U.S. Department of Energy last week announced Oregon would receive $33.5 million in energy efficiency grants
That money is on top of the March 12 announcement that the state would get $80.7 million in federal stimulus money for home weatherization upgrades and investments in other energy saving improvements.