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Economy’s clouds can’t dim Hillsboro’s quest for solar firms October 20, 2009

Filed under: Manufacturing,Oregon,Solar — nwrenewablenews @ 7:59 pm
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The City of Hillsboro has not cut back on its quest for an expanded local solar industry presence.

Mayor Jerry Willey and Economic Development Director John Southgate joined other members of Team Oregon in attending the 24th European Photovoltaic Solar Energy Conference and Exhibition, which opened in Hamburg, Germany, Sept. 21. Their mission was to nurture contacts begun during prior conferences and initiate new ones.

This was the first solar-focused European trip for the pair, both of whom are part of “a new generation” in Hillsboro administration. Former mayor Tom Hughes, accompanied by Larry Pederson, now retired head of economic development, and Assistant City Manager Rob Dixon had attended the Photovoltaic Technology Show 2008 Europe in Munich, Germany, as part of that Team Oregon delegation.

Willey said it’s hard to grasp the immense size of these European trade shows, which in familiar U.S. terms could only be compared to the COMDEX computer exposition at the height of its popularity in the late 1980s.

“Think of the (Portland) Home and Garden Show at the Convention Center – times seven,” Willey said of the European solar conference. “John and I were assigned one venue with 38 booths.” Each had been previously identified as having some sort of Oregon connection, perhaps as simple as having been contacted in the past by the state’s team, he said. Covering such a vast assignment took a toll: Willey estimated they easily averaged 5 miles a day as they fanned out to cover their assignments. It was “so huge you could be easily overwhelmed by the number of products,” he said.

On Sept. 22, Team Oregon hosted its own dinner for businesses that had expressed an interest in locating in the state. About 50 delegates came. “I was encouraged,” Southgate said. “Oregon has a good reputation.”

He might have added “and little U.S. competition” at the show. New York was the only other U.S. state with a presence there.

The economic downturn is influencing the solar industry’s expansion plans, but a complete freeze is unlikely. According to Southgate, many companies contacted at the conference said they could see coming to America in the next two to five years, but virtually none said they were planning on establishing a presence now.

Before heading to Hamburg for the conference, Willey and Southgate spent a few days in Freiburg, Germany, to visit SolarWorld AG’s operations. “We want SolarWorld to understand we value our relationship extremely,” Southgate said.

The company reciprocated and hosted a dinner in a local castle.

Both Southgate and Willey were impressed with the creativity Freiburg had shown in implementing solar projects. The city had decommissioned a very old landfill, Willey said. Its land was not stable enough to support buildings. “So the city put a huge solar array on it,” he said.

Southgate expects this sort of project to become common, worldwide. “The solar industry is evolving and expanding. It’s going to be much, much bigger than it is now,” he said.

Susan Gordanier, The Hillsboro Argus


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