Oregon's solar industry stumbles
By Lee van der Voo, Sustainable Business Oregon
Sustainable Business Oregon
Large, or utility-scale, solar projects seem to be stalling out in Oregon, according to three industry experts who spoke Wednesday to members of the Northwest Environmental Business Council.
The experts expressed frustration over mixed signals from the state, a tax incentive system weighted toward other types of renewable energy development and a pilot feed-in-tariff that leaves little room for utility-scale projects. They said there are ways to galvanize the flagging industry, but not without support from Oregon's government and the renewable energy community.
The presentation was led by Glenn Montgomery, executive director of the Oregon Solar Energy Industries Association; David Brown, senior principal and co-founder of Obsidian Finance Group LLC; and Sandra Walden, president of Real Energy Solutions.
They spoke to a group of about 40 people who gathered at 111 S.W. Columbia in St. in Portland for the program.
Topping concerns was that no utility-scale projects were built in 2010 in Oregon, yet a dozen or more were conceived. Those projects, which would sell power to utilities, are still languishing in pre-permit planning, in tax-credit limbo or unable to capitalize.
While small-scale solar installations have increased four-fold, and programs seem to be pumping life into the residential solar market, utility-scale projects are sputtering.
A variety of challenges are to blame, summarized by Brown, who said, "The counties are having their authority reduced, the state is moving with less efficiency, and we don't have any leadership."
Those issues all stem from a central problem: Utility-scale solar is in its youth and it's been slow to gain position. According to the presenters, though 13 percent of power generated in Oregon comes from wind and solar, solar makes up less than one percent of the mix, or less than one tenth of one percent of the state's total energy picture. With its technology still evolving and its foothold loose, utility-scale solar is more expensive than other types of renewable energy. Getting the projects built has proved challenging.
Lee van der Voo, lvdvoo*at*gmail.com, is a freelance writer for Sustainable Business Oregon.
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