Clean Energy Works Oregon looks for state help to grow faster

Derek Smith, Clean Energy Works Oregon CEO, said the opportunity for energy efficiency in the state is still massive.

Derek Smith, Clean Energy Works Oregon CEO, said the opportunity for energy efficiency in the state is still massive. 

Sary Dobhran was a single mother and on welfare when she moved back to Oregon in 2010. She’d graduated the University of Oregon just 7 years earlier with a degree in environmental studies, traveled to Italy and worked as a language tutor for the head of energy in Turino, and worked in Mexico in between. But after her son’s father died, she struggled to regain her footing. The $400-a-month assistance she received went to rent for the single room she shared with her then 3-year-old child, so small she could barely open the door.

Now she works for SolarCity as a residential energy auditor and a home performance technician. And after she told her story to a packed room Thursday — an audience looking to learn more about future plans for the state’s largest energy efficiency program — she turned to U.S. Senator Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and personally thanked him for her career and her job.

“My story is a testament to the demographics of the unemployed. We’re often educated. We’re often hardworking. We’re often experienced. We simply need the tools to get into a market like this,” she said.

Dobhran is one of hundreds of employees in the state reshaping their careers in a market driven by Clean Energy Works Oregon, a public-private partnership that uses energy retrofits to create jobs and save energy.

Dobhran's particular journey was funded by a series of training grants tied to putting the unemployed back to work, including a U.S. Department of Labor funded grant matched in part by Clean Energy Works. Since retraining, Dobhran has become one of 900 workers who have received pay through Clean Energy Works. The nonprofit program has received state and local support to make that happen, as well as $20 million in federal stimulus money, steered by Wyden to the then-fledgling Portland pilot as its creators looked to expand it statewide. Clean Energy Works’ leaders say it has fostered 300 direct new hires and has another 100 jobs tied to its pipeline of future projects.

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