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Patrick tries to kick-start energy tech industry

As Governor Deval L. Patrick looks at the small but growing cluster of innovative new energy technology companies in Massachusetts, right now looks like 1985 did for biotechnology or 1993 for the Internet and telecommunications.

Those were the years of the founding of the Massachusetts Biotechnology Council and the Massachusetts Telecommunications Council, the latter since renamed the Network Communications Council. And they heralded the onset of explosive growth for industries that spawned dozens of start-up companies, billions in investment, and tens of thousands of jobs in Massachusetts.

Concluding the time’s now come for something like a state “clean energy council,” Patrick yesterday brought to his State House office two dozen top executives at companies in solar and wind power, fuel cells, and gasoline-replacing ethanol. He urged them to move quickly to bring to fruition talk of a new trade association that would help give the industry a stronger voice and lobbying power and better connect academics, investors, entrepreneurs, and state policy makers.

Several executives left hoping that a “clean energy stakeholders roundtable” meeting this Friday at Boston law firm Foley Hoag LLP will launch an association that confirms and supports Massachusetts as a major national player in energy technology.

“The way things are going, it might be standing room only,” said Howard Berke , chief executive of Konarka Technologies Inc. , a Lowell solar energy company, who met with the governor yesterday and is agreeing to help lead Friday’s session also. “I think the governor is very genuine in his interest” in promoting the sector, Berke said.

Others helping organize the Friday gathering include chief executives Bruce Anderson of Wilson TurboPower Inc. of Woburn, maker of a high-efficiency heat-transfer system, and F. William Capp of Beacon Power Corp. of Wilmington and James D. Worden of Solectria Renewables LLC of Lawrence, which both make electric-power technologies.

State Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Ian A. Bowles said, “The governor is saying, ‘I want this sector to be a big deal.’ ” Bowles estimates that energy efficiency, renewable energy, and clean-energy consulting account for over 14,000 jobs at 550 businesses statewide. But, Bowles said, “Here in Massachusetts, you don’t have a particularly visible public voice for clean energy firms.”

Other companies participating in yesterday’s meeting included: from the solar power sector RWE Schott Solar Inc. of Billerica, Seahorse Power Co. of Needham, and Spire Corp. of Bedford; in fuel-cell and hydrogen power Accumentrix Corp. of Westwood, Lilliputian Systems Inc. of Wilmington, Nuvera Fuel Cells Inc. of Billerica, Second Wind Inc. of Somerville, and UPC Wind of Newton; companies that make ethanol and other fuels from plants including Celunol Corp. , GreenFuel Technologies Corp., and Mascoma Corp. , all of Cambridge, and World Energy Alternatives LLC of Chelsea and Bioenergy International LLC of Norwell; and several other energy-technology companies including American Superconductor Corp. of Westborough and Color Kinetics Corp. of Boston.

Though solar, wind, ethanol, “clean coal” and other companies may appear to have little in common, Bowles said four examples of state policies that could help all include:

Better financial incentives for utilities like NStar and National Grid to support customers’ use of “distributed generation” installations like fuel cells, solar panels, wind turbines, and hydroelectric generators.

Stronger state and national regulation of carbon-dioxide emissions, protecting the environment, and promoting alternatives to coal, oil, and gas for electric generation.

Toughened state energy-efficiency standards for buildings and appliances and more required use of ethanol as fuel.

Mandating state government buy more “green power” for its buildings, such as plans Patrick cited yesterday for 12 installations of solar panels at state colleges, prisons, sewage plants, and other facilities.

By Peter J. Howe, Globe Staff


12 June 2007