My view: Oregon clean energy companies ready to grow
In September, as smoke choked Oregon skies and families were being evacuated from their homes due to wildfire, my company hosted an event that gave me great hope for the future.
Nearly two dozen European clean energy developers, public officials and academic researchers who had come to Portland for an international wave energy conference visited our fabrication plant. We came together to share ideas, make connections and discuss how the investments and tax credits built into the federal Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) will turbocharge clean energy development in Oregon.
More than 56,000 workers in Oregon are employed in the renewable energy sector. On average, they earn 21% more than the statewide median. And these workers are largely employed by small businesses like mine.
Oregon is in a fantastic position to take advantage of IRA investments and incentives for companies working to harness the energy of the sun, wind and waves — which, in turn, will power homes, buildings, vehicles and economies. It will create opportunities to expand, to hire more people and to reduce the climate pollution harming our communities. IRA also sets high labor standards nationally, ensuring that clean energy jobs will be high quality jobs. Since Oregon already has these high standards in place, our state's companies can compete for contracts across the nation.
For companies like mine, and for our employees, IRA is a game changer. It will allow us to double our workforce — something we expect to see across the clean energy sector. I am grateful to have the leadership of Sens. Wyden and Merkley and the federal delegation in supporting our industry.
Our company was founded in 2020 as a woman- and minority-led business. We've built everything from expansion handrails for bridges to sturdy workboats that can withstand squeezing between massive barges. We will also work on the big clean energy project in Klamath Falls, an innovative hydro-powered storage battery for wind and solar energy which is creating more than 1,000 new family wage jobs in southeast Oregon.
For us, focusing on clean energy projects is not only the right thing to do for our business and the health of the planet, it will allow us to capture exciting new opportunities to bring business into Oregon and hire more people. Our company's average annual salary is more than $84,000 and our workforce includes 43% women and people of color. We do on-the-job training for entry-level apprentices from non-traditional backgrounds, particularly women, people of color, and people who have been affected by the criminal justice system. We work closely with organizations such as Oregon Tradeswomen and Constructing Hope to offer high-skill, high-wage, high-demand career opportunities to the communities that need them the most.
We estimate that IRA investments will allow us to double our workforce and that will be true across the clean energy sector. Jobs building wave energy buoys and wind power platforms. Jobs installing electric vehicle infrastructure. Jobs retrofitting homes and buildings to use clean and safe electricity instead of polluting natural gas.
As our state's summers get hotter and drier and more dangerous, the imperative to reduce our planet's dependence on polluting fossil fuels and accelerate development of clean energy is urgent. I am optimistic that with the IRA investments, we can create a safer, cleaner and more prosperous future.
Alicia Chapman is a co-founder of Willamette Technical Fabricators, a metal manufacturing and machining business in the heart of Portland's working waterfront.
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