Oregon: state of green

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Articles - June 2013
Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Science and research: Driving jobs and the new economy

Number of green jobs: 5,075

Oregon’s scientists are hardly alone in pursuing green projects, but the state brings a lengthy track record in promoting the research that can lead to green jobs. One of the best-known initiatives is the Oregon Built Environment and Sustainable Technologies Center (BEST), first funded by the legislature in 2007. Since then, more than 200 scientists affiliated with Oregon BEST have brought $93 million in federal and other research dollars to the state. The organization’s commercialization program also offers grants and support to startups such as Shelter Works, which makes recycled wood-cement blocks, and HM3 Energy, which has developed a coal alternative from forest and agricultural waste.

Other green laboratory strengths include the Center for Sustainable Materials Chemistry — a collaboration led by two Oregon universities and awarded a $20 million National Science Foundation grant in 2011. Likewise, the newly established Pacific Marine Energy Center in Newport plans to build the only utility-scale, grid-connected wave power test site outside of Europe, backed by $4 million in matching funds from the federal Department of Energy. “Oregon is uniquely positioned to take on this role,” says Belinda Batten, director of the Northwest National Marine Renewable Energy Center, which is overseeing the project.

She cites the region’s power-transmission infrastructure, manufacturers experienced with marine components and the knowledge base at Oregon State University — recognized globally as a leader in the field. Professionals outside of academia, like the seven Corvallis-based environmental consultants of Dutch firm Ecofys, also benefit from Oregon’s demand for engineering, policy research and technical services.

Since 2008 the company’s clients have included the Oregon Wave Energy Trust, PGE and the Energy Trust of Oregon as they sized up the technical challenge of tying new renewable power into the existing grid. “There definitely is a good, fertile market here,” says Ecofys U.S. managing director Diane Broad.

Oregon has nurtured that market with decades of progressive environmental policies and millions in public investment in sustainable industries. Whether all of the resulting businesses are sustainable themselves remains to be seen. Oregon’s leadership faces challenges in the form of shifting clean-energy subsidies, stiff competition for renewable business and disagreement around clean-energy legislation.

As this article went to press, the state legislature was engaged in a contentious debate over the Clean Fuels program, which would mandate a 10% carbon reduction in car and truck fuel by 2025. Oregon’s commitments to renewable power, low-carbon transportation and clean technology paint a picture of a state as green as any. Translating these commitments into consistent, long-term economic and environmental gains will challenge Oregon for years to come.

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