Saturday, July 18, 2009

Gresham Gets It

In the initial posts here at Energication, I've attempted to frame the landscape for renewable energy opportunities for our students. The journey began with a look at federal efforts in the areas of curriculum, continued in an effort to assess the current solar climate in the State of Oregon, evaluating the benefits of Portland as the region's growing center of activity, and now focuses very locally on the City of Gresham.

As this post's title suggests, Gresham is likely to capitalize on renewable energy opportunities as they are presented - or as they are "created" - because we have a mayor, other leaders and a community who "get it."

The vast majority of the posts you will read in Energication are original and purely my perspectives. From time to time, the information gets served up so well in other places, there simply isn't any value in me crafting a message from scratch. This is one of those times.

The following story originally appeared in the Portland Tribune in December, 2008. With my appreciation to Mark Garber, you may read it here.

Dave


Gresham Pursues Solar Jobs
Originally posted at PortlandTribune.com

Gresham officials see a sparkling future when it comes to attracting solar energy companies, but the city isn’t close to any deals yet to bring major solar manufacturers to town.

The city has worked systematically in recent months to position 220 acres of industrial land, now owned by LSI Logic, for the solar-energy industry. Oregon in general and Gresham in particular are seen as attractive destinations for solar companies, says Mayor Shane Bemis, who has helped lead the city government’s effort to recruit industries that have the potential to create hundreds, if not thousands, of jobs.

While Gresham has taken concrete steps toward making the right connections in solar-industry circles, the state of the economy is slowing down interest from some parties, Bemis says. Media reports earlier this week indicated a major European solar company has chosen Gresham as its U.S. finalist for a factory, but Bemis says the company in question isn’t proceeding in the near future.

“They are in a holding pattern right now, given the economy,” Bemis says.

Putting a green foot forward

Even though no deals are imminent, Gresham officials are highly optimistic that solar companies will locate in Gresham and they are marketing the LSI land to that end.

They have placed a trailer – acquired for $100 – on the LSI property to serve as a gathering spot for industrial scouts who come to town and want to visit the site. Bemis and other city officials also are armed with a list of reasons why solar manufacturing companies ought to land in Gresham.

Specifically, the city is burnishing its green credentials by undertaking initiatives that make Gresham stand out, even among its Oregon peers. The city’s bragging points include:

• Its new plug-in station for electric cars at City Hall – only the third city-sponsored station in Oregon.

• The city’s green development practices.

• The city’s vehicle fleet, which is powered by hybrid technology and biodiesel.

• The community’s No. 1 position as a consumer of green power from Portland General Electric.

• The use of alternative energy – methane gas and solar panels – to provide most of the power used at the city’s wastewater-treatment plant.

“The extent to which local government is hooked into the green initiative is huge to (solar companies),” Bemis notes.

LSI site has growing reputation

Beyond the city’s dedication to alternative energies are the specifics of the LSI land. On a clear day, it has impressive views of Mount Hood, “which speaks to quality of life,” Bemis says. But perhaps more significant is the “PGE reliability center” at the site, which guarantees that industries located there will have power no matter what happens.

“It’s only one of three reliability centers in the state,” Bemis says, “and it’s a huge, huge, huge selling piece to this site.”

The Gresham City Council also recently approved a Strategic Investment Zone – the first of its kind in the state – to provide property tax incentives for companies that might locate on the LSI land.

The LSI property surrounds the ON Semiconductor plant off Northeast Glisan Street. Silicon chip maker LSI Logic previously occupied that factory and it retained the surrounding property after selling the plant to ON Semiconductor.

Although Gresham has long considered the property to be valuable industrial land for future job-intensive industries, in recent months the focus has turned more exclusively to the growing solar industry.

The state of Oregon also is providing incentives to solar-component manufacturers as part of its push to attract green industries. And the state has raised the profile of the LSI site to solar companies, both nationally and internationally.

“The whole world knows about this site,” says Bemis, who has traveled to a San Diego trade show to meet with solar companies and is planning a similar trip to Germany in March.

Such outreach by the city and state brought Gresham into the sights of the unnamed European solar company that is now in a holding pattern. Before the company decided to delay its expansion plans due to the economy, it had narrowed its list to about a half a dozen in the world – with Gresham being “one of the only ones in North America,” Bemis confirms.

XsunX still planning Wood Village plant

Other economic-development experts in the state and region agree that solar is ripe for Oregon to pursue. At the Oregon Business Plan’s annual Leadership Summit in Portland on Thursday, business people discussed strategies for extending Oregon’s leadership in alternative energy. Hillsboro already is developing a strong solar cluster, having attracted two major companies along with some smaller firms.

And in East Multnomah County, XsunX Inc. is still planning to manufacture solar components in the former Merix plant in Wood Village, says East Metro Economic Alliance Executive Director Travis Stovall, who has been working with the California-based company.

XsunX has moved some equipment into the Merix facility and has more machinery on the way, Stovall says, but it has not yet finalized an agreement with the state to get the energy credits needed to make the plant pencil out financially.

“The process is moving along,” Stovall says.

Several factors are converging to put Oregon in an enviable position for solar development, Stovall says. President-elect Barack Obama is making alternative energy a priority. Oregon is offering state incentives. And solar companies already have a significant presence here.

“I think Oregon overall is going to play a major role based on the cluster we already have,” Stovall says.

East County has the available land, but its solar prospects also depend on the area’s ability to develop a labor force ready to work in solar-manufacturing plants.

“We have to be able to train these folks to have the expertise that these companies are looking for,” Stovall says.

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