Pamplin Media Group, Dec 11, 2007

A federal appeals court has found in favor of Oregon and 10 other states in a case challenging the exemption of SUVs and light trucks from automobile fuel-economy standards.

Solar-silicon companies start moving in

Here in the shadow of microprocessor giant Intel Corp., most Portlanders associate silicon wafers primarily with computer chips. That may change as three California companies take steps to site plants in Oregon, focusing on the fastest-growing sector of the silicon market: photovoltaic cells used for solar power.

Santa Clara-based Solaicx opened a plant Nov. 20 in the Port of Portland Rivergate Industrial District that, at full capacity, will employ 180 people and produce 180 megawatts’ worth of solar wafers annually.

Two other solar silicon makers also are planning facilities in Oregon: XsunX, of Aliso Viejo, has chosen an unspecified site in Oregon for a 100-megawatt thin-film solar cell plant. Peak Sun, based in Carlsbad, plans a plant in Millersburg, near Albany, that initially will employ 50 people, and may boast 500 jobs by 2011.

The solar silicon industry appears poised to take off worldwide. In September, the Financial Times reported that world production of polysilicon, the raw material for solar cells as well as microchips, was likely to quadruple over the next three years. The solar industry was set to eclipse semiconductor makers as the largest consumer of polysilicon by the end of this year, it said.

Both Solaicx and Peak Sun create the polysilicon wafers and ingots used in solar cells, while XsunX makes complete photovoltaic modules.

SUV fuel-efficiency case finds friends in court

A federal appeals court has ruled in favor of Oregon and 10 other states in a case challenging the Bush administration’s lax fuel economy standards for SUVs and light trucks.

In the ruling, 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Betty Binns Fletcher held that the administration had violated the Energy Policy and Conservation Act by failing to take global warming into account when exempting the vehicles from automobile fuel-economy standards.

The case, Center for Biological Diversity v. National Highway Safety Traffic Administration, was consolidated with challenges from Oregon and other states, as well as the District of Columbia and four other environmental groups.

“This is an important victory in the fight against global warming,” Deborah Sivas, the attorney of record on the case, said in a statement released by the Center for Biological Diversity. “It’s hard to imagine a federal action more significant to the problem of climate change than one which dictates fuel-consumption standards.”

OSU launches ecological engineering program

Oregon State University recently launched the nation’s first undergraduate degree program in ecological engineering.

The program is expected to draw about 100 students from high schools nationwide. The new degree was announced Oct. 18, and the university has begun accepting applications for enrollment in 2008.

The program’s students will learn to take on projects such as restoring ecosystems and rivers, using ecosystems analysis to solve difficult environmental problems, and designing and managing constructed wetlands.

In a statement on the university’s Web site, Dean of the College of Engineering Ron Adams said, “This new degree sets Oregon State apart from any other engineering school in the country.

“Many students study engineering because they want to solve complex problems [and] move the world toward a healthier, more sustainable place. This new degree is a major step in offering our students another engineering option that will impact the future in a positive way.”

Wave-energy test buoy sinks, but data lives

An experimental buoy touted as the first commercial-scale wave energy converter deployed on the West Coast has sunk, but its creators say the mishap won’t derail their plans.

The $2 million AquaBuoy 2.0, created to convert wave energy into electrical power, found the waves a bit too energetic Oct. 27. It sank in 115 feet of water near Newport, just a day before engineers had planned to remove it.

Representatives for Finavera Renewables, the Canadian company that created the device, admit that the sinking was not an ideal result. But they say that ultimately, they got what they wanted out of the buoy’s two-month deployment.

“That’s really hard to explain to people when the device sank. that we still got a lot of valuable information,” Mike Clark, a Finavera spokesman, told the environmental Web site “The actual data we got was positive and validated all the modeling.”

The buoy uses the natural rise and fall of ocean waves to drive seawater though a turbine, generating electricity. The company hopes eventually to deploy clusters of such buoys connected by cable to the land-based power grid.

Finavera plans to recover the buoy from the seafloor in the spring, when the waters are calmer.

Report urges closer scrutiny of biofuels

A new report from the Oregon Environmental Council warns that all biofuels are not equal when it comes to sustainability, and says that biofuel practices need to be evaluated on a “field to wheel” basis.

Fuels like biodiesel and ethanol are often touted as more environmentally sound alternatives to fossil fuels, and Oregon was the first state in the nation to provide incentives for growing crops specifically to make biofuels.

However, the biofuel movement has drawn criticism from some who argue that the biofuels are not always grown and processed in a sustainable way.

The report outlines a set of principles for policymakers and industry leaders. These include supporting only biofuels that reduce greenhouse-gas emissions on a life-cycle assessment basis, processing the fuels with minimal fossil-fuel input, and growing biofuel feedstocks using sustainable agricultural practices.

“Biofuels can clearly provide positive environmental benefits,” Oregon Environmental Council’s director of programs, Chris Hagerbaumer, said in a statement. “Oregon’s goal should be to maximize those benefits and mitigate any negative environmental consequences of feedstock production and fuel processing.”

The full report is available online at

— Marty Smith

5 Responses

  1. I must say that I had been a little leary of all hype going on around solar. After taking a look at many different programs and get options my spouce and i made a decision to make the leap. We ended up getting solar without any money down and immediatly started saving money the very first month is was installed. I must say that this advantages of solar look like they’re real and I am happy we chose to proceed with it.

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