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Green Tax Breaks

OPB | Nov. 24, 2009 9 a.m. | Updated: Sept. 10, 2013 9:07 p.m.

On paper it sounds good: provide taxes incentives for alternative energy companies to locate in Oregon and watch the companies — and the new jobs — roll in. Of course, tax-related issues are rarely that simple. We discovered that earlier this year when we did a show exploring the state’s business energy tax credits — or more wonkily — BETCs (“Betsies”). So now the story’s developed, and we figure it’s time to take a second look.

The Oregonian recently reported that the Department of Energy and the Governor’s Office purposely underestimated the cost of the BETC program:

Current and former energy staffers acknowledged a clear attempt to minimize the cost of the subsidies.

“I remember that discussion. Everyone was saying, yes, this is going to be a huge (budget) hit,” recalled Charles Stephens, a former analyst for the Energy Department who left in 2006. “The governor’s office was saying, ‘No, we need a smaller number.’”

Dave Barker, an analyst who is still with the agency, told The Oregonian that the initial cost estimates started high but got lower after he was told by his superiors to plug in smaller figures.

“What I would hear pretty consistently was, ‘We want to keep it conservative,’” Barker said.

The Governor’s office denies that claim. (Kulongoski has ordered a review of the costs of the BETC program. The results of that review are due by the end of this month.) Meanwhile, The Oregon Department of Energy has come out with new temporary rules that tighten up the costs of the energy credits.

What does seem clear is that the cost of the BETC and other green financial incentives is rising — and many question if it’s a price the cash-strapped state can afford to pay.

There is some evidence the BETC is working. Oregon has attracted more than its share of the renewable energy industry — mainly wind and solar companies— with possibly more to come. The Norweigian company Think says Oregon is still in the running to host its new electric car manufacturing plant. Regardless of Think’s decision, industry watchers are still hopeful Oregon can become an electric car hub.

Has your company benefited from the BETC? How have green tax incentives affected your business? Do you work in the renewable energy industry? Do you consciously consume renewable wind or solar energy? Does it matter to you if Oregon is a leader in attracting and using alternative energy?

GUESTS:

Brian Shipley: Deputy chief of staff for Oregon Governor Ted Kulongoski

Mark Long: Acting director of the Oregon Department of Energy

Phil Barnhart: Democratic Oregon State Representative for District 11 and Chair of the House Revenue Committee

Tim Stearns: Senior energy policy specialist with the Washington Department of Commerce

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