By Lisa Adatto of Portland, Oregon. Lisa is the Oregon state director for Climate Solutions, a Pacific Northwest organization that works with business, agriculture, environmentalists, government, and public interest groups to create practical and profitable climate and clean-energy policies that work for the environment and the economy.
We know that we are hurting in Oregon, but it could be worse, much worse. We read about layoffs, see shuttered stores and miss our favorite restaurant. But there is a bright spot in Oregon’s economy and yes, it is green. A report released this week from the Pew Center on the States (PDF) shows that the emerging clean energy economy “grew nearly two and a half times faster than overall jobs” between 1998 and 2007.
Oregon led the pack in this transformation, one of the three states with the largest and fastest-growing energy economy. Oregon had 19,340 green jobs in 2007, an increase of over 50 percent according to the Pew study. Jobs in Oregon’s clean energy economy now comprise over 1 percent of all jobs in Oregon – the highest percentage of any state in the nation. This job growth has occurred in a remarkably short time and can continue as we transition from fossil fuels to clean, more efficient energy sources.
We have seen how this focus has buoyed key areas of the state that have focused on the clean economy. The Oregonian reported last weekend that The Dalles, with a wind training program and new jobs and tax revenues from the wind industry, is doing better than many other communities. New solar manufacturing plants are employing thousands of skilled workers in good paying jobs. And a recent article highlighted the energy efficiency work done by Lincoln City.
What is behind the phenomenal growth of our clean energy/clean tech sector? We have adopted smart public policies and invested in the green economy as a key economic driver. We have done that through our economic development programs, particularly the Business Energy Tax Credits (BETC) and the Renewable Energy Standard (RES), which sets progressive benchmarks to require that a certain percent of our energy must come from new renewable sources – reaching 25 percent by 2025. As the report notes,
Such policies have great potential because they create significant incentives for both the private and public sectors to develop new technologies, infrastructure and processes for clean energy, efficiency and conservation.
However, the continued growth of our economy is threatened today by several bills moving through the legislature that would roll back our clean energy economic development policies. One bill, HB 2940, would dramatically reduce the ability of the RES to foster the development of new renewable energy supplies. Another bill, HB 2472, would significantly reduce the value of tax credits we provide to those who develop clean energy projects.
Of course this legislative session has offered an extremely challenging budget picture. But with the second highest unemployment in the nation, this is precisely the wrong time to be sabotaging one of the brightest spots in Oregon’s economy. Through energy tax credits, the renewable energy standard and other incentives, we are succeeding in brining new businesses, jobs and hope to Oregon communities. Cutting these incentives now risks losing these private investments and would send a dangerous message to green businesses that they can’t count on Oregon to support the transition to a clean energy economy.
Just as we invest when we send our kids to college so that they can thrive when they become adults, Oregonians should continue to invest in our State’s green economy so that our future includes continued new jobs and economic activity. Even in these difficult budgetary times, we can’t afford to tear down the public policy foundations of our growing clean energy economy.