By Lisa Adatto of Portland, Oregon. Lisa is the Oregon Director of Climate Solutions, promoting realistic solutions to the climate crisis.
As the dust settles from the legislative session, we have the opportunity to look calmly at the issues. One that has gathered more ink than others (particularly in the Oregonian) is the Business Energy Tax Credit, the BETC. What happened with the BETC? What should happen in the future?
The Oregonian got the story wrong, or to use today’s journalistic parlance, “half right”. Week after week, article after article, the Oregonian wrote about the costs of the BETC program. The Oregonian was right to point out how the program grew too quickly with loose controls. They were right to point out how expensive the program was and to highlight cases of abuse. On those points, the Oregonian has helped our State leaders understand and improve the program. But the Oregonian was one-sided to only focus on the costs. They missed the bigger picture: right now the BETC is critical to Oregon’s economy. It is a key economic development tool.
One of the myths about the BETC is that it is not necessary; that most of Oregon’s clean energy projects would go on without a BETC. This may be true for some of our largest wind farms. In fact, the new legislation phases out the BETC for large wind programs. But during the last month I have talked to hundreds of clean energy executives. Without the BETC, most of our transformative projects including conservation, energy productivity, solar, wave, community wind, electric vehicle, battery and solar components, biomass, wood pellets, LEED buildings, biofuel, truck retrofit and others would stop. In addition, we would lose our most important tool for attracting clean energy manufacturing to Oregon.
Oregon legislators clearly understand the thousands of jobs, innovation, company headquarters, new business ventures, tax revenues, reputation for leadership, and positive economic impacts of the clean energy sector to Oregon and the critical need for the BETC program. The main outcome from the recent legislative session is that we saw continued strong support for the program. In addition, the Governor’s office, the Oregon Department of Energy and the legislature improved the BETC by adding sensible caps, timelines and controls, accountability and transparency. Our forward-thinking policy-makers were smart: they fixed the BETC to make it more accountable while still preserving the program’s essential role in creating jobs and economic benefit for the people of Oregon.
BETC is not just a cost; it is an investment. Consider this: every year Oregonians spend around nine billion dollars on out-of-state energy. This money is gone and cannot create new companies, projects, local jobs and tax revenues. Is the BETC the answer for the long term? The BETC has accomplished a lot. Other financial investment programs may emerge to spur clean energy and take the place of the BETC. But for now and the immediate future we need the BETC to continue growth in this important sector.
Discussing costs is legitimate and necessary. But only discussing costs misses the point. Like companies that invest in marketing to get new accounts, like families that invest in college educations to prepare their sons and daughters for the future, States need to invest in their economic health. The BETC helps get Oregonians back to work. Working Oregonians will create tax revenues to fund our schools and essential services.