Northwest Renewable News

Your Daily Source for Renewable Energy News in Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana & Northern California

Boardman biofuel plant gets $25M federal grant December 11, 2009

ZeaChem Inc. on Friday said it has been awarded a $25 million federal stimulus grant it will put toward its cellulosic ethanol plant under construction in Boardman.

Lakewood, Colo.-based ZeaChem announced last month that it had started construction on the 250,000-gallon-capacity plant, which will be capable of converting organic material such as forest waste and wood pulp into fuel.

The company’s core technology, which will result in a chemical called ethyl acetate, will be online by 2010. The $25 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy will be used to build and integrate additional components that will enable final production of cellulosic ethanol.

ZeaChem was one of 19 organizations to be selected for a total of $564 million in stimulus grants targeted for advanced biorefinery projects.

The roughly $34 million biorefinery will use poplar trees as its principal feedstock. The trees will be supplied by GreenWood Resources Inc., a Portland company that operates a 17,000-acre tree farm near Boardman. If successful, the company hopes to expand the Boardman plant to commercial-scale production in the range of 25 million to 50 million gallons of fuel annually.

Portland Business Journal –


Ashland, Ore. EV manufactuer drops price to $7,995 November 19, 2009

Filed under: Manufacturing,Oregon,Smart Grid — nwrenewablenews @ 1:14 am
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In an effort to bring electric vehicles to the masses, Brammo Chief Executive Craig Bramscher announced this week that the Oregon-based manufacturer will drop the price of its Enertia electric motorcycle to $7,995. The suggested retail price had been $11,995.

“We set the retail price two years ago, and now that we’ve built dozens of prototype bikes and built 100 for customers, we now have the real data to determine what it’s going to cost us to build these and get them out in larger volumes, so we’re able to price that in accordance now,” Bramscher said.

The price reduction is possible because of “pricing in the supply chain and reducing labor and making systems more efficient,” Bramscher said, adding that it takes about two hours to assemble an Enertia at its Ashland production facility.

Additional price breaks on the bike are available through federal incentives, which allow buyers to write off 10% of the purchase price on their tax returns and, until the end of 2009, reimburse them for their state sales tax. Many states, including California and Oregon, provide additional incentives.

Anyone who’s already purchased an Enertia is eligible for the lower price. According to Bramscher, they simply need to call the company at (541) 482-9555 or e-mail the firm at to request a refund.

Susan Carpenter, Los Angeles Times

Editor’s Note: A quick life-cycle cost analysis shows these bikes pay for themselves within 4 years compared to most cars, when used as daily transportation. Also, these bikes are charged by  plugging into any normal power outlet, extremely simple. And, the battery is rated for 2000 recharges, which equates to just over 5.5 years. Wow!


Commercial Wood-to-Biofuel facility planned for Boardman, Ore. November 18, 2009

A Colorado company that has developed a process to convert wood to fuel is starting construction of what will eventually be a commercial-scale production plant.

Lakewood-based ZeaChem Inc. is working with Hazen Research of Golden to build the first units of its biofuels refinery. ZeaChem President and CEO Jim Imbler says the company will transfer the modular units to Boardman, Ore., where it will eventually run a commercial refinery.

ZeaChem plans to start production at a demonstration facility in Oregon by the end of next year.

ZeaChem uses a bacteria to break down the cellulose in wood to make fuel. Imbler says the process, unlike traditional fermentation with yeast, produces little carbon dioxide.

The company raised $34 million earlier this year to help build a refinery.

Gazette Times –


Treasure Valley company relies on solar power to charge electronic devices in automobiles November 16, 2009

Filed under: Idaho,Manufacturing,Solar — nwrenewablenews @ 6:05 pm
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A Treasure Valley company has come up with a way to charge electronic devices in an automobile without draining the battery or requiring the vehicle run on idle for long periods of time.

Treasure Valley Solar in Boise has put together an integrated system that uses the power of the sun to charge electronic devices such as computers, cell phones, and PDA’s without turning on the vehicle’s engine.

The equipment could meet the needs of companies with fleets of vehicles that are out in the field or even construction companies looking for ways to charge their power tools, say company officials.

The cost: $1,200 to $1,500.

Bill Robert, Idaho Statesman


Oregon governor defends green tax breaks November 14, 2009


The Sunday, Nov. 1, story by The Oregonian’s Harry Esteve, “State lowballed cost of green tax breaks,” implied that I or my staff directed former state energy director Mike Grainey to manipulate or falsify cost estimates for the Business Energy Tax Credit (BETC) when we expanded the program in 2007 to grow Oregon’s renewable energy jobs sector. That implication is highly misleading.

I did no such thing. I also did not ask my staff to direct Grainey or to work with staff at the Energy Department to reduce revenue impact statements. The suggestion is not a practice that I have ever endorsed or executed as governor of Oregon.

Two days later, the front page of The Oregonian also ran a story announcing 200 new, high-paying jobs with Sanyo, a solar energy company that opened a multimillion-dollar facility in Salem.

As I said at the ribbon-cutting ceremony, the growth in Oregon’s renewable energy sector was not by accident — it was by design and the result of public policies, such as the BETC and the Renewable Portfolio Standard among others, that encourage new companies to move here and thrive here. The Sanyo story is all about jobs — in Oregon during a nationwide recession — and replicates other BETC successes.

The numbers prove that the BETC program is one of the most effective economic development tools in our effort to create green jobs. Since we expanded the program in 2007, Oregon has ranked in the top 10 states in wind energy production; has become the leading solar manufacturer in North America, with SolarWorld, Sanyo, PV Powered, Solaicx and Peak Sun; and according to the Pew Charitable Trust, Oregon has the highest percentage of green jobs per capita of any state in the nation.

These companies not only employ thousands of Oregonians and contribute billions to our state’s economy, but also help advance the transition to cleaner, renewable energy sources.

That said, I have always believed that tax credits have a life span and require regular review to ensure the credits remain good public policy. The BETC program is no exception.

The expansion of the BETC program in 2007 proved a success and was used beyond anyone’s expectations. As a result, the debate about the program was one of many policy discussions during the 2009 legislative session. Throughout the session I remained an advocate for the program as one of many tools to grow our green economy and spur renewable energy development — but I was also clear that I was open to a reasonable level of modification.

Last session I supported House Revenue Committee Chair Phil Barnhart’s proposal to responsibly reduce the cap for the BETC from $10 million to $7.5 million. But I could not support the final version that emerged from the Senate, which reduced the cap even further to $3.5 million, because it would have put Oregon at a competitive disadvantage with our neighboring states at a time when we needed to be doing everything possible to create economic opportunities — not squander them.

In August, when I vetoed the Senate version of the bill, I restated my support of re-examining the incentive levels of the BETC. That is why I fully endorsed another bill that directed the Oregon Department of Energy, Public Utility Commission and Oregon Business Development Department to commission an economic analysis of renewable energy projects that qualify for the BETC so we can obtain the latest facts and make an informed decision about the program going forward. That study will be completed by next October in order to have the necessary information for the 2011 legislative session before the program sunsets in 2012.

When I vetoed the bill, I also directed the Department of Energy to tighten the rules implementing the BETC, including clarifying issues around awarding multiple BETCs, establishing clear performance criteria, such as job creation, as well as increasing state authority to revoke, approve or deny BETC applications. These rules, which were developed over the last three months, took effect this month and are a first step to better ensure that Oregon is getting a return on its investment.

A second step was taken last week to begin to address the pass-through option discount rate. There are also other ideas about making the program more selective that we should continue to debate during the February 2010 special session and the 2011 regular legislative session. With the new rules in effect, as well as an updated economic analysis of the program, we will have the information needed to make prudent decisions about how best to ensure that this program delivers new jobs, greater energy efficiency and clean, renewable energy.

The BETC program has played an invaluable role in helping Oregon become a leader in green jobs and technology. I agree that we need to take another look at not only the kinds of projects that qualify for the program, but also how the state implements it so the public is certain that the program is working to create jobs for Oregonians.

The citizens of Oregon should know that I am committed to making sure government is accountable and transparent. The BETC is a good program that requires continual re-evaluation to make sure the program is delivering the maximum benefit to the citizens of Oregon through clean energy and green jobs.

Ted Kulongoski is governor of Oregon.

Oregonian –


New rules proposed for green tax credits in Ore. November 13, 2009

The Oregon Department of Energy on Friday issued a new proposed “pass-through” rate for its Business Energy Tax Credit program that cut the rate of return on an investment significantly.

The pass-through option allows owners of an energy project to transfer the tax credit to a partner in exchange for cash.

The new rules propose to align the pass-through rate to the five-year U.S. Treasury Note and the urban Consumer Price Index for the West region. If enacted, the new formula would mean the annualized rate of return for a pass-through partner taking a 5-year 50 percent renewable energy BETC will drop from 9.85 percent to 3.42 percent.

The rules would create a standardized formula for pass-throughs that would be reviewed quarterly.

Mark Long, the energy department’s director, said the new proposed pass-through is one that “reflects current economic conditions.”

“Depending on the final outcome of rulemaking, the rate change could result in more money going to the actual energy project and a rate of return more in line with other government sponsored projects,” Long said in a news release.

The amended pass-through rate follows a more comprehensive overhaul of the BETC program unveiled earlier this month.

Effective immediately for new tax credit applications, the rules address issues such as project cost overruns and eliminate the ability of a single project to receive multiple tax credits.

It also established new criteria for project eligibility and gives the Department of Energy the authorization to suspend and place conditions on applications. It also provides new criteria for project performance, giving the department authority to revoke a permit if it believes an applicant misrepresented the project.

This summer, as state legislators grappled with a massive budget shortfall, critics argued that the BETC program — which paid out $68.8 million in credits over the past two years — would rise to $143.8 million in the next biennium if left unchecked.

Legislators passed a bill that would have reduced that payout by $20 million, principally by cutting back credits for wind energy projects.

Gov. Ted Kulongoski vetoed the bill, but in recognition of legislators’ concerns he signed another bill directing the energy department to conduct an economic analysis of the BETC program.

Portland Business Journal –


Oregon becoming a major destination for foreign solar firms November 9, 2009

Filed under: Manufacturing,Oregon,Solar — nwrenewablenews @ 5:54 pm
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Uni-Chem, the South Korean company that wants to start making solar cells in the Hynix plant in west Eugene, is just the latest in a string of foreign companies that are coming to Oregon to seek their solar fortune.

A half-dozen solar companies, including firms based in Germany and Japan, already have landed in Oregon, and more are circling the state.

These companies have caught the scent of a monumental market opportunity. Solar industry experts say the United States is poised to become the world’s largest market for photovoltaic panels. That prediction is backed up by a stack of federal, state and local incentives to encourage Americans to install solar panels on their rooftops, and by the growing list of states, including Oregon, requiring utilities to obtain a certain percentage of their power from renewable energy sources, such as solar.

Producers are following the market, said Shyam Mehta, senior analyst at GTM Research, an affiliate of Greentech Media, an online media company based in Cambridge, Mass.

“With stimulus funds and massive utility deployment expected to drive 1.6 gigawatts in U.S. demand by 2012, domestic, Chinese and European companies are making major investments in solar factories over the next five years, particularly in panel manufacturing,” he said.

“More (U.S.) plants were announced in the first half of 2009 than in the previous three years combined,” Mehta said.

With its skilled work force, network of suppliers, access to university researchers, and generous subsidies, Oregon exudes a powerful allure for these companies.

“As we look around the U.S. and ask the question, who has the best incentives for starting solar factories, Oregon always comes out at the top,” said Roger Little, CEO of Spire Solar, the Massachusetts company that is working with Uni-Chem to set up U.S. solar production. In February, his firm even launched a “Come to America” campaign, encouraging foreign companies to set up solar manufacturing on American shores.

“If you can maintain the benefit that you provide to these companies, then you’ll continue to grow in the solar field,” he said. “I think it’s a huge opportunity.”

But it remains to be seen how successful these Oregon newcomers will be, whether they’ll meet their production and employment projections, and ultimately, whether they’ll help Oregon become a center for clean-energy technology and manufacturing.

Oregon is well on its way to achieving that goal, according to a recent report by Mehta, the GTM Research analyst. U.S. solar module manufacturing capacity, as measured in megawatts, will rise 45 percent a year from 2008 to 2012, from 875 megawatts in 2008 to 3,880 megawatts in 2012, the report forecasts.

One megawatt installed typically powers 150 to 200 households, said Monique Hannis, spokeswoman for the Solar Energy Industries Association in Washington, D.C.

Mehta ranks Oregon as the No. 1 site for companies locating solar manufacturing plants in the United States. He predicts that Oregon and California will emerge as major solar manufacturing centers in the next few years, with Oregon accounting for 59 percent of the United State’s “producible (solar) wafers” in 2012.

Solar ingots are sliced into wafers, which are then cut into cells to make photovoltaic panels, or modules, which are installed to generate power from the sun.

Tax credits popular

Many of Oregon’s solar companies said they were drawn in by the state’s package of goodies, including reasonably priced vacant semiconductor plants and their skilled ex-workers; inexpensive, reliable electrical power; access to higher-education researchers and work force training; proximity to the massive California solar market; and incentives, including the state’s Business Energy Tax Credit (BETC) program, known as “Betsy.”

Under the program, a solar manufacturer may apply for a tax credit worth half of a project’s costs. The tax credit is capped at $20 million, to be claimed over five years.

Eligible projects include investments, such as improvements to plant and equipment. Recipients may sell their tax credits at two-thirds their face value for cash, which solar manufacturers are doing because they aren’t generating enough income to take full advantage of the credit themselves.

Solar manufacturers and state business development officials say the tax credit is just one of many compelling reasons for a solar company to settle in Oregon.

“It was really a matter of everything coming together at the right time in the right place for the right price,” said Ben Santarris, spokesman for SolarWorld, the German company with a solar cell plant in Hillsboro.

Some of those factors, he said, included a well-maintained facility on nearly 100 acres “at a fraction of the original price;” a regional work force “well-steeped in silicon and high-tech manufacturing”; a strong educational system to help develop the industry, from technical training to research; responsive state and local governments; and incentives “strong enough to level the playing field with those of other states.”

“Remember, we’re investing $500 million into U.S. manufacturing, which is pretty bold in this era,” Santarris said. “We were looking for the set of conditions under which this enterprise had the most going for it.”

Although they aren’t the sole draw, the subsidies do matter, solar company officials say.

John Sedgwick, co-founder of Solaicx, which is based in Santa Clara, Calif., and opened a plant in Portland two years ago to produce ingots and wafers, said the large base of trained employees was the area’s biggest attraction.

“That was far and away the No. 1 criteria,” he said.

“The Betsy (tax credit) was quite important,” Sedgwick added. “It wasn’t the primary reason for locating in Portland, but it certainly was a nice sweetener.”

The tax credit and property tax waivers had even more pull for Sanyo Solar, which last month opened its wafer and ingot facility in Salem.

“The real deal maker for us was, of course, the incentives program,” Sanyo Solar spokesman Aaron Fowles said.

Combined, the Business Energy Tax Credit, enterprise zone property tax waiver, and other incentives are estimated to cover half of Sanyo’s $80 million costs to set up its Salem plant.

The Business Energy Tax Credit is “a very, very rich subsidy,” said Sen. Ginny Burdick, D-Portland, who chairs the Senate Revenue Committee. “It’s by far richer than any other state has, so it’s going to make us very attractive to solar companies.”

The main reasons why Uni-Chem wants to set up in the Hynix plant are “incentives, the closeness to the market (California is the largest solar market in the United States) and the appeal of the facility itself,” Uni-Chem spokesman Yoon Ho Kim told The Register-Guard in late September.

Uni-Chem “will be applying for everything that’s offered to us,” he said.

That’s likely to include the Business Energy Tax Credit, as well as the enterprise zone tax break, which would waive three years — and possibly two additional years — of property taxes on improvements Uni-Chem makes to the Hynix complex.

Uni-Chem has said that it will spend $100 million to $150 million to convert the third-floor of the Hynix plant to solar cell manufacturing. Assuming a $100 million investment, Uni-Chem could qualify for a $20 million Business Energy Tax Credit, which it could sell for about $13 million cash, plus three years of enterprise zone property tax waivers, valued at roughly $1.85 million a year.

Federal policy helps, too

A variety of recent policy moves in the United States are giving solar producers confidence in the U.S. market’s potential, Mehta and other analysts say.

Last year, a 30 percent federal tax credit for residential and commercial solar installations was extended for eight years, sending a message that the United States is serious about solar, said Hannis, the Solar Energy Industries Association spokeswoman.

That extension “was a very important signal that here’s a stable policy that’s going to support demand here in the U.S.,” she said.

In addition to federal, state and local incentives encouraging U.S. residents to install solar panels, the federal stimulus bill and some states — including Oregon — offer subsidies directly to solar manufacturers.

The Advanced Energy Tax Credit, which was part of the federal stimulus, offers manufacturers a 30 percent tax credit on the cost of equipment. That is set to be converted to a direct cash payment.

“A lot of (solar) companies have expected the U.S. market to be the No. 1 market, but we haven’t had the policies in place to sort of let the market take off,” Hannis said.

Some of the federal stimulus subsidies contain “Made in America” requirements, providing a further incentive for foreign companies to establish U.S. manufacturing.

“A logical place to locate American facilities in order to have American content is in Oregon,” said Sedgwick, of Solaicx.

Some Oregonians may think they’ve seen this all before — chasing the semiconductor industry with incentives, only to see most of them pack up and go home when the market sank.

Solar isn’t as cyclical as the semiconductor industry, Sedgwick said. Solar behaves more like the energy industry, which is marked by steady demand, he said.

And the move away from fossil fuels to renewable energy is expected to take decades. Currently, only 1 percent of electricity used in the United States is solar-generated, Hannis said.

“The big (solar) boom is going to last a while because it’s going to take a while to outfit every single house,” she said.

“We believe that (solar) is a really solid long play,” said Bruce Laird, clean-tech recruitment officer with the state business development department.

As each state reaches “grid parity” — the point at which solar-generated power costs the same per watt as power generated by other means — “the pull-through demand for solar products is pretty straight up for the next 20, 30, 40 years,” he said.

“At a certain point you hit grid parity, and look out, because one thing that everybody likes is a good deal,” Laird said. “And if you can do the environmental right thing and get a good deal, that is like virtue on the cheap.”

Sherri Buri McDonald,  Register-Guard