In January, Obama’s transition team talked about a New Deal stimulus package and urged governors to prepare their lists of “shovel-ready” make-work projects. Although states would divide $144 billion to reduce budget deficits and prevent cuts in essential government services (Oregon’s share is $570 million), another $37 billion would be available in the form of grants. While other governors left it up to legislators or appointed stimulus czars to apply for grants with laundry lists of WPA-style infrastructure projects, Kulongoski, who’s made reducing the state’s carbon footprint a touchstone of his administration, told his senior staff that he believed Oregon should do more with the federal stimulus than fill potholes. Since the state has more LEED-rated buildings per capita than anywhere else in the nation, plus dozens of businesses specializing in alternative-energy production, why not leverage that expertise to give the state an advantage in landing stimulus grant money?
To figure out how best to do that, Hamilton and chief of staff Chip Terhune, with Dave Chen and Mark Edlen (the Gerding/Edlen developer of the Brewery Blocks and the South Waterfront), recruited a think tank of mostly Portland-based green gurus that also included Dan Heagerty, chief strategic officer at David Evans & Associates, the firm involved in every streetcar and light-rail project in metro Portland and in other cities across the country; Steven Straus of Glumac, an engineering firm that specializes in green retrofits of skyscrapers; and Dan Carol, a Eugene-based political consultant who worked in Chicago as the Obama campaign’s director of content and issues and who cofounded the Apollo Alliance, a San Francisco–based green-energy advocacy group. “[The Oregon Way plan] happened everywhere—in Portland, in Salem, around coffee tables and conference tables,” Hamilton says. “We all sat down and said, ‘How do we seize this opportunity? As we look at carbon-reduction strategies and energy-reduction strategies, we’re better at this stuff than anyone.’ It was really exciting. We finally have this moment in time to show how we can really work together.”
The planners decided a public/private project would work best: the governor would appoint an advisory board to serve as the state’s stimulus clearinghouse and vet proposals for whether they met Oregon Way standards. For more than a month, the team hashed out those standards—the project must be started within sixty days of receiving grant money and be completed within twelve months, for instance; it must use locally sourced materials; and it must yield quantifiable environmental results. Ideally, each project could serve as a pilot project, replicable across the nation.
One possibility was Oregon’s Solar Highway, a demonstration project that uses a bank of 594 solar panels (made by SolarWorld in Hillsboro) and an inverter (manufactured at PV Powered in Bend) to power streetlights along the I-5/I-205 interchange in Tualatin. Scaling up the pilot project to outfit the state highway system with four sites (including one in metro Portland) would result in the world’s largest solar highway project and could send more than $30 million in stimulus funding to companies like SolarWorld and PV Powered, not to mention hundreds of third-party installers and consultants.
With $1 billion, the state could retrofit the equivalent of thirty Big Pinks with low-flow toilets, solar panels by SolarWorld, and energy-efficient insulated windows (by Jeld-Wen, perhaps, of Klamath Falls). According to Edlen, this scenario alone would create twelve thousand construction jobs, six thousand manufacturing jobs (at said companies), and require the services of 450 architects and consultants. Meanwhile, the energy saved could power fourteen thousand homes while scrubbing the atmosphere of eighteen metric tons of carbon dioxide and keeping ninety-one million gallons of water from leaving Bull Run.