Long a B-list issue on Beacon Hill, energy – both the state’s response to rising prices and growing worries about global warming – is quickly elbowing its way to the top of the Statehouse to-do list.
Just this week, state regulators gave their environmental blessing to a 130-turbine windmill farm in Nantucket Sound and on Monday, House Speaker Salvatore DiMasi makes a personal appeal to fellow lawmakers on behalf of his massive energy bill.
Not to be outdone, Gov. Deval Patrick – who highlighted a call for alternative energy production in his campaign – has ramped up his rhetoric as he crafts his own energy bill.
At stake, according to lawmakers, advocates and industry representatives, is not only the state’s energy independence but its economic future.
If the state can corner a piece of the market, alternative energy technology may prove to be for 21st century Massachusetts what clipper ship production was for 19th century Bay State industrialists.
At least that’s the pitch Patrick has offered time and again, both on the campaign trail and as recently as an event in Cambridge this past week as he applauded an effort by that city to become the nation’s first to adopt energy efficiency measures across the entire community.
Patrick announced the state would spend $2 million to help other cities follow the lead, and said alternative energy could be the spark to ignite Massachusetts’ flagging economy.
“Where others see a reason to panic, I see an opening, an opportunity,” Patrick said. “If we play to our strengths in Massachusetts – our concentration of brain power, of venture capital, our entrepreneurial spirit and tradition – we can make Massachusetts a global leader in clean technology.”
It was the same message Patrick pitched a week ago to a crowd of supporters at a “town hall” meeting in Boston when he said the state needs to go “out and built that kind of economy” based on clean energy, nanotechnology and stem cell research.
It’s a message Jim Gordon, president of Cape Wind, said his company has already invested about $30 million in.
On Friday, the state gave the proposed first-in-the-nation wind farm an environmental green light to move forward. The project still faces significant opposition, a federal environmental hurdle and licensing battles, but Gordon said the state – and country – has to get serious about alternative sources of electricity.
In the six years since the firm launched the effort to build the wind farm, 10 similar wind farms have been built in European waters with another 20 proposed, he said.
“We’re behind on a global scale and we shouldn’t be. We need to get moving,” Gordon said.
Douglas Foy, one of the state’s leading conservationists and development secretary in the Romney administration, echoed a similar impatience. He said efforts like the Cambridge initiative show the state can lead the nation.
A key to that, he said, is finding better ways for cities – with their concentration of people, buildings, financial resources and public transportation – to go green.
“Cities can be the platform on which we can fashion the solutions for global warming,” he said. “Cities are the Saudi Arabia of energy efficiency.”
On Monday, the debate shifts to the Massachusetts House where DiMasi, enjoying a power boost with the recent resignation of former Senate President Robert Travaglini, hopes to drive the energy agenda.
DiMasi’s Green Communities Act is designed in part to encourage cities and towns to reduce energy consumption and streamline local permitting for renewable energy generating facilities.
In return, communities will qualify for renewable energy credits and be eligible for technical and financial assistance from alternative compliance payments paid by utilities.
The plan has raised some concerns. The Conservation Law Foundation said the Legislature should focus on improving and expanding existing energy efficiency and renewable energy programs.
DiMasi sees the bill as a signature piece of legislation for the House, and critical to the state’s future.
“Energy costs are a drag on household budgets and business growth and we need to find ways to create a cleaner, less costly energy future,” he said recently.
By Steve LeBlanc, Associated Press Writer
31 March 2007
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