Thu, Mar

The Solar Store Helps Central Oregon Shine in Renewable Energy Resources

As a visitor eyes a gleaming line of electric bicycles in a converted bungalow near the Bend Parkway, Michael Ridden employs a time-tested sales technique. "Would you like to go for a ride?" he asks, smiling.

As a visitor eyes a gleaming line of electric bicycles in a converted bungalow near the Bend Parkway, Michael Ridden employs a time-tested sales technique.

"Would you like to go for a ride?" he asks, smiling.

Naturally, it's a pitch that's hard to resist: the opportunity to try before you buy. That's the idea behind The Solar Store, a retail window into a high-tech world that's rapidly gaining a foothold in the sun-soaked High Desert of Central Oregon.

"I think people are really intimidated by solar," said Sam Ridden, Michael's wife and business partner. "They think it's so much easier to have the power company come over and hook them up."

OK, so the bikes aren't exactly running on sun power -- the $2,500 machines must be recharged at an electric outlet. They run on 10-cent charges of electricity that will take the riders 20 miles.

But it's a good hook for a store that sells everything from solar jackets -- to power your cell phone or personal data assistant -- to coffee beans roasted under the sun to a solar oven that retails for $229.

The couple, who said they live "off the grid" in a solar-powered house east of Bend, eventually plan to sell home solar systems, Michael said. Their shop is located at 184 NE Kearney Ave., near Second Street.

It won't be the first Bend company to break into the emerging solar products market. Sunlight Solar Energy Inc. has installed 75 solar power systems on homes and businesses in the last year in Central Oregon, said company President Paul Israel.

The company, which was founded in 1988, quadrupled its sales volume over the last two years, Israel said. In addition, Sunlight Solar Energy offers solar equipment for recreational vehicles and recently opened a second office in Connecticut, he added.

PV Powered, which manufactures solar inverters in Bend, earned revenues of about $1 million in 2004, said Brian Dupin, sales director of the company.

Inverters convert direct current electricity gathered from sunlight into alternating current electricity, which is used to run most common appliances. PV Powered sells its products to homeowners and businesses.

Lucrative incentives, tax breaks and a pool of highly educated workers make Oregon a good place to do business in the solar market, Dupin said.

"It's starting to become more high tech now, and there's so much talent in the state of Oregon," Dupin said. "And a lot of people in Oregon have a green tint to them."

Oregon distributed 1,743 residential energy tax credits from 2000-2003 to homeowners who installed solar electric, hot water and heating systems, according to Diana Enright, spokeswoman for the Oregon Department of Energy.

Tax credits of up to $1,500 are available through the Department of Energy.

Oregon businesses that use rebates and tax credits available from the state and federal government can quickly pay for the cost of installing solar equipment, said Israel, of Sunlight Solar Energy.

"Based on the incentives that are available, I can show a four-to-five-year payback," Israel said.

A swath of Oregon stretching from Washington to California east of the Cascades is gaining a reputation in the renewable energy marketplace, said Cylvia Hayes, executive director of Bend-based 3EStrategies.

The nonprofit company conducts educational events and acts as a kind of consultant to sustainable energy companies, Hayes said.

"We are really looked at statewide as a leader in this emerging renewable energy sector -- of which solar is a big part of," Hayes said.

Hayes estimated there are about 100 renewable energy companies located in Oregon east of the Cascades -- including several in Bend and Redmond. Renewable energy refers to geothermal, wind, hydroelectric and other types of power, as well as solar.

Those companies could get a boost from Gov. Ted Kulongoski.

A plan to stimulate the renewable energy industry in Oregon is one of Kulongoski's strategies to help curb global warming, according to an April 19 statement released by the Oregon Department of Energy.

It's called the Oregon Renewable Action Plan. The goal: to meet 10 percent of Oregon's total electricity load by 2015 through the use of renewable energy generation.

A group will be created to implement the plan, according to the Department of Energy. In addition, the governor's office will coordinate legislative efforts to bolster the use of renewable energy.

Solar energy components of the plan include:

--Stimulating development of Oregon's inverter manufacturing sector.
--State Department of Energy support of demonstration projects that use advanced solar design and technology to reduce energy use.
--Encourage the use of solar technology and design in new public buildings.
--A collaboration between the state departments of energy and agriculture to identify potential uses of solar technology in agricultural operations.

The plan also calls for the creation of an industrial park or "renewable energy cluster" that combines renewable energy technology and design with companies that sell green energy products and services.

Some city officials have said Juniper Ridge, a planned high-tech/business and research park and potential college campus being planned north of Bend, could be a good fit.

Source: Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News