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Patrick, Murray take aim at new energy projects  

It was one of Deval L. Patrick’s more memorable claims during his campaign: If the state could develop new industries based around advances in alternative energy, “the whole world would be our customer.”

Now as he structures a new administration and its agenda before taking office next month, the governor-elect is facing the task of translating his big idea into green kilowatts and jobs, turning energy crises into economic opportunity.

Having formed a working group to focus on energy and environmental issues, and included alternative energy executives on the team preparing his economic development agenda, Mr. Patrick said he wants to designate high-level staff members to coordinate renewable energy efforts within his administration.

“I think it’s very important to have a special focus on energy,” Mr. Patrick said. Referring to a decision to create a labor secretariat to focus on employment issues, he wants a similar coordinator to oversee renewable energy work in his new administration. “I’m looking at how we create structures and organization in order to give it that kind of emphasis and focus,” he said.

From his view, a lot is riding on making the state a leader in the field.

“I think we can make a lot of progress, and I think it is essential that we try – for reasons of the competitive landscape, for reasons of environmental exigencies, and because it is a big economic opening for us,” Mr. Patrick said.

Lt. Gov.-elect Timothy P. Murray, who as Worcester’s mayor pushed the city to participate in energy conservation, global warming emission reduction strategies and green power purchasing programs, said designation of “a point person” in the new administration to coordinate renewable energy initiatives is going to be key.

“It begins with the Secretary of Economic Development and having him or her focus on “˜how do we incentivize and encourage and grow these industries,’ to allow those people with industries that are up and running, or the people at the colleges and universities, to have regular input – whether that is through quarterly meetings or an advisory committee,” Mr. Murray said.

There is already a multi-tiered industry here, in its infancy, with the dedication of renewable energy fees on most electric bills to provide startup funding for solar, wind and biomass projects, and for research and development of fuel cells through the state’s Renewable Energy Trust – as well as other grant funds and loans from the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative. He said the administration would initially review limitations on those incubator funding agencies and look for new opportunities.

“Just by paying attention to this you can see it reduces budgets. You are creating an economy, a market for this, and certainly state government has an even bigger opportunity, using its purchasing power to grow the market,” Mr. Murray said.

“I don’t think we have even scratched the surface,” he added, pointing to the potential of fuel cell technology being worked on at Worcester Polytechnic Institute, Massachusetts Institute of Technology and other schools.

“What we are doing, really, is trying to jump-start this part of our economy,” he said. This will mean trying to build critical mass of innovation, technology development, clean energy-generating facilities and energy-related products and services that can be exported to larger markets, he said.

Mr. Murray pointed to the success of Evergreen Solar Inc. of Marlboro, which has expanded its innovative solar electric cell manufacturing techniques into a global product over the last several years, in part with funding assistance from the Renewable Energy Trust. He said the company’s recent decision to expand manufacturing in Germany, instead of Massachusetts, was an opportunity lost by the state.

“Deval tells the story about talking to Evergreen Solar, that has reported big orders from Europe – $25 million and $30 million manufacturing deals – and some of this manufacturing is now being done out of the country. Deval asked the CEO, “˜How come you are not doing it in Worcester?’ And one of the things he said is, “˜I was never asked,’ “ Mr. Murray said.

Not surprisingly, in light of the story, Mr. Patrick enlisted Evergreen founder Mark Farber to serve on his economic development transition working group.

Massachusetts will not be starting from scratch. Over the past several years, the Renewable Energy Trust has seeded 800 different renewable energy projects with grants totaling $34 million, and there are more projects in the independent state agency’s innovation pipeline.

This year, 183 solar installations have been done under a rebate program for small solar projects in homes and businesses. Another 300 are lined up for next year. A new 400-kilowatt “solar farm” has been recently plugged on what was a brownfield in Brockton with Renewable Energy Trust assistance, and 40 cities and towns are exploring small-scale wind turbine projects.

Also, Princeton is updating its municipal wind farm with more advanced turbines and a firm in Gloucester, Varian Semiconductor, is coping with rising energy costs by incorporating wind power in its manufacturing plant. A number of small-scale biomass power plants that burn low-grade wood are being developed in the state, and a combination of solar panels and weatherization is being applied in 120 low-income homes through another energy trust grant program.

Meanwhile, the state requires utilities to steadily increase the amount of renewable energy sold in the state through its renewable energy portfolio standard. Utilities were required to get 1 percent of their electricity from renewable sources in 2003, and that has increased to 2.5 percent this year. Starting next year, the schedule calls for 1 percent increases annually through 2014, with utilities paying a penalty into a renewable energy development fund if they fail to meet the standard.

Susan F. Tierney, a former federal energy administrator and state environmental secretary who is co-chairman of the Patrick-Murray working group on energy and environment, says the Cape Wind offshore turbine project, while controversial, could also prove a bonus for developing turbine technologies here.

War in the Middle East, growing concern over global warming, and a surge in new capital and foundation funding available for alternative energy projects are all pushing the alternative energy agenda forward here, Ms. Tierney said.

“This is the hot area right now”¦ If you look at the variety of equity funds, as well as unusual investors, such as hedge funds, moving into this area now, not to mention foundation funders, altogether we are talking billions of dollars,” Ms. Tierney said. “We are not standing at ground zero for sure, but there is so much more needed for small business. They need help, not only in financing, but setting up small businesses.”

Another “potential gold mine,” she said, is development of wind farms far offshore if advances in construction technologies allow installations farther out in the ocean, where shoreline siting controversies would be avoided.

Most importantly, she said, are Mr. Patrick’s hopes to create a “critical mass” that could put together capital funding, pools of scientific and engineering talent and private firms looking to adopt technical advances to move into manufacturing and energy production on varying scales.

“There is a ton of interest and a ton of promise. The momentum is strong. There is a desire to focus on this area and there is actual funding and resources in terms of talent,” Ms. Tierney said. Underlying that, she said, is public demand for cleaner domestic energy sources. “What has changed is, there is a much more piercing understanding that we have got a real problem.”

Renewable Energy Trust Director Warren Leon said Mr. Patrick is onto something with his goal. He said the state has been a national leader in conservation using innovative technology in the past and now has advantages emerging in the field of renewable energy. While it doesn’t have the sunshine of Arizona or the high winds of Texas, Mr. Leon said, “Massachusetts has some real advantages” by having already established a strong base in some sectors of clean energy and having access to significant venture capital sources.

The state is in the forefront of hydrogen fuel cell technology with perhaps “the richest collection of fuel cell companies in the country,” Mr. Leon said. Along with that, the state has an expanding fuel cell technical work force. On the solar front, he said, it is one of the few places in the country that has companies that are “actually developing photovoltaic technology and producing products.”

By John J. Monahan
Telegram & Gazette Staff
jmonahan@telegram.com

telegram.com

This article is the work of the source indicated. Any opinions expressed in it are not necessarily those of National Wind Watch.

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