by Zach Dundas
Portland’s modern clean-energy industry owes a debt of gratitude to gaunt old Woody Guthrie. In the 1940s, the folksinger helped raise public support for the Columbia River’s dams with federally funded ballads like "Roll On, Columbia," laying the foundation for the development of hydropower. The Northwest dams then attracted a concentration of energy experts that today draws clean-energy companies from around the world. (Think Danish wind giant Vestas and German solar manufacturer SolarWorld, both of which have North American headquarters in the Portland area.)
"Bonneville Power Administration gives Portland a tremendous talent base," says David Kenney, president and executive director of Oregon BEST, a green industry research center. "If you’re a start-up in energy, it makes a lot of sense to locate across the street from them."
Indeed, according a recent study by the Pew Center on the States, Oregon’s jobs in the clean-energy sector increased by 51 percent between 1998 and 2007. The rise owes as much to dry public policy as to private enterprise. The Business Energy Tax Credit, established in 1979, credits businesses for up to 50 percent of costs for renewable energy projects, like, say, installing solar panels on a manufacturing plant. And the state’s recently adopted requirement that major utilities get 25 percent of their power from renewable sources by 2025 suggests the industry will only continue to grow. In fact, Oregon is already among the nation’s top solar technology manufacturing states, and we’re no. 5 in wind power production.
Sure, the future may hold some obstacles (our nation’s creaky power grid, for one), but government support, like the state transportation department’s plan to add 20 megawatts’ worth of solar power to light Oregon highways by 2020, should help spur competition for contracts. "In a carbon-constrained world, all these technologies are going to be vital," says Oregon Business Association president Ryan Deckert. "If you’re sitting in Manhattan asking yourself, where do they get this [technology]?, the answer is likely to be Portland."
Vestas In 2002, the Danish wind-turbine builder rooted its North American headquarters in Portland, and the company just landed its biggest single site order ever—190 turbines for a California wind farm.
SolarWorld With about 1,000 employees, the German solar power technology company’s Hillsboro manufacturing plant is the largest such plant in North America.
Hot jobs: Real estate agents and developers; meteorologists; engineers; warehousing, transportation, and parts procurement specialists.