Oregon’s big energy companies could leave startups in the dark

Oregon’s big energy companies could leave startups in the dark


As Oregon’s renewable energy sector matures, the lights will go out for some small businesses forced to compete with new, larger players, analysts say. But the increased competition in the growing energy sector, they say, will lead to lower costs for renewable energy generation and consulting services.

Oregon is considered a leader in renewable energy and clean technology. Homegrown regional providers PGE, Pacificorp, the Bonneville Power Administration and NW Natural all maintain headquarters in Portland, and Danish wind power company Vestas and ScottishPower subsidiary PPM Energy have U.S. headquarters in the city. More large multinational companies are on the way, with Germany-based SolarWorld investing $400 million in a solar silicon chip plant in Hillsboro.

And analysts expect Oregon’s new renewable portfolio standard and expanded clean energy incentives to draw more businesses to the state.

The Oregon Legislature this year passed a standard requiring 25 percent of the state’s new energy production to come from renewable resources by 2025. And additional tax incentives allow residents and businesses to recoup up to 50 percent of the cost of energy projects.

“I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see some other players come in and play,” Bill Holmes, an attorney who heads Portland-based Stoel Rives’ energy practice, said.

Oil giants Royal Dutch Shell and Chevron Corp. have begun investing in renewable projects in California. It’s only a matter of time, Holmes said, before they find projects in Oregon.

Oregon’s renewable energy industry is growing up, but that’s making it harder for small businesses like technology startups and mom-and-pop solar installers to compete with the large and mid-size developers.

“It’s a potential threat to community and grassroots efforts to position Oregon as a leader in renewable energy,” energy consultant Justin Klure said. “But it may also bring added resources to the state in the terms of financing and job growth.”

Some say the shift is necessary and will be an economic boon to the state. But smaller companies are feeling the squeeze and are concerned that large competitors will hog the market.

Mom-and-pop solar installers, especially, are at risk, Ron Pernick, an analyst with Clean Edge in Portland, said, as large and mid-size companies take over the state’s renewable energy space and integrate manufacturing and distribution with their consulting and installation services.

Pernick cites Maryland-based MMA Renewable Ventures and SunEdison as examples of large companies setting the national trend for solar energy services.

“There will be consolidation and new business models; the solar industry in particular is growing up,” Pernick said. “New players are coming in and becoming vertically integrated. … We won’t see fewer people involved in the industry, (but) it may not be all the original players.”

Imagine Energy, a startup solar installer and energy efficiency consultant in Wilsonville, has experienced the shift firsthand. The company had to switch solar panel distributors when the supplier the startup had relied on for its equipment began offering its own installation service.

“I think it’s the responsibility of a small solar company to position itself the best it can,” Jonathan Cohen, president of Imagine, said. “But I do think it’s a threat” to small businesses.

Oregon ratepayers, however, should expect the consolidation to lead to lower prices, Pernick said. The maturing industry will allow renewable energy to become more competitive with traditional, dirtier sources of electrical generation, he said.

“I don’t think you’ll see fewer jobs in Oregon,” Pernick said. The solar industry, he said, “was very disaggregated. (Consolidation will) bring down pricing and make the technology more turnkey for partners.”

Copyright 2007 Dolan Media Newswires

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