Oregon must create a market of early adopters

We need another column about Oregon's economic development opportunities associated with clean technology like we need to be told about the benefits of exercise.

Yet, as I read column after column identifying key opportunities, I wonder if we are stuck in a way that will keep us from tapping cleantech's full economic potential.

Just about everything I read points to opportunities to attract private investment for business growth — but are we being honest with ourselves about what it might take to achieve this investment at a level that would make a real difference toward our economic recovery? We're debating the Business Energy Tax Credit (BETC) and considering other measures like the feed-in tariff, but merely keeping what is now in place would fail to mobilize a new infusion of private investment on a scale that will help Oregon build upon its early lead in attracting businesses in the clean tech sectors.

Oregon is lauded for its energy efficiency efforts. Energy Trust of Oregon, energy cooperatives and utilities have done a good job with programs aimed at homeowners and businesses. However, we still hear that efficiency represents a tremendous opportunity for investment, at a much greater level than ever before. Further, private capital is interested in efficiency in a way we haven’t seen before. If we've been so good at efficiency, why is there so much more to do? Why does efficiency still represent an untapped economic opportunity?

I suggest some candid reflection. With the possible exception of very large energy users, energy consumers generally are not the best investors. We often lack the time and information to make decisions, and we’re just not willing to tie up our money in things that pay off over long periods of time. It would be a serious mistake to assume this behavior will change in response to climate change concerns, belief in the value of clean energy or even moderate price increases in fossil fuels. The early adopters (those willing to invest in efficiency and green power) cannot, by themselves, pave the way for the broad market transformation necessary to replace fossil fuel energy sources.

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Tom Osdoba directs the Center for Sustainable Business Practices at the University of Oregon’s Charles H. Lundquist College of Business.

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