Experts on clean energy said the outcomes of Tuesday’s election will likely create more challenges for the U.S. clean energy industry in years to come, though the re-election of Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick bodes well for the state’s growing cleantech cluster.
The experts, speaking at the Sixth Annual Conference on Clean Energy at Boston’s Hynes Convention Center, said the election results at the national and state levels were largely stark for those focused on renewable energy and efficiency.
“It’s a very different world,” said Melanie Kenderdine, executive director of the MIT Energy Initiative and one of the four panelists.
The panel, moderated by Mass High Tech Publisher Douglas Banks, discussed how the post-election picture looks for cleantech at the national, state and local levels.
The election saw the Republican Party capture control of the U.S. House of Representatives, which had championed energy reform legislation under its Democratic leadership in 2009. Tuesday’s election also saw GOP candidates win a number of governor races, including in Maine, where the gubernatorial winner, Paul LePage, opposes the state’s wind power goals set under Democratic Gov. John Baldacci.
Kenderdine listed off a number of new Republican House members who deny the science that supports human-caused climate change, and noted that the new House speaker will be John Boehner, R-Ohio, who has said he doesn’t believe carbon dioxide is harmful to the environment.
The new Congress could put an end to government funding programs that have helped to launch cleantech companies in New England, according to Kenderdine – programs such as ARPA-E, which gave $62.8 million to Massachusetts cleantech companies in its first year.
Funding for technology to sequester carbon could be in particular danger, she said, since “the only reason for (doing) that is if CO2 is changing the climate.”
Panelist Peter Rothstein, president of the New England Clean Energy Council, noted that many cleantech companies have eagerly hoped Congress would pass a bill putting a tax on carbon dioxide emissions. Such a measure, which had been discussed during talks on the energy reform bill, would be essential to unleashing new private investment in cleantech, he said.
However, Rothstein said, “that’s an effort that clearly is not about to happen at the federal level right now.”
Kenderdine said a large number of states that have passed renewable energy quotas for their utilities may find those requirements in danger, once new governors take office.
In Maine, meanwhile, the push for developing wind power both on land and offshore may lose steam under LePage as the new governor, Rothstein said.
The gulf of Maine in particular is being considered for offshore wind power, but also for oil drilling, he said. “The governor of Maine will make a difference on that,” Rothstein said. Banks noted that LePage has referred to wind power as “unreliable.”
Panelists said that Massachusetts is another story, with Patrick – widely considered a major supporter of clean energy and technology – easily winning re-election.
“Hallelujah,” said panelist Henrietta Davis, vice-mayor of the City of Cambridge. Davis said she was relieved that the election would not threaten the energy achievements of the Patrick Administration, including the passage of the Green Communities Act.
Panelist Vincent DeVito, a partner at Bowditch & Dewey in Boston and executive director of the Institute for Energy & Sustainability in Worcester, said the outcome is clearly positive for the cleantech industry in Massachusetts.
“The election results here in Massachusetts are absolutely terrific for development-stage companies, and the Cape Wind project should be happy,” said DeVito, referring to the planned offshore wind project in Nantucket Sound, which had been supported by Patrick but opposed by challengers including Republican Charlie Baker.
Davis said that with the expected lack of support in Congress for clean energy and efficiency, local municipalities must take the lead in finding ways to cut energy use and emissions. She suggested that municipalities pursue new ways of cutting building energy use, such as adopting the state’s Stretch Energy Code, which the Cambridge City Council approved last December. The code “results in greater energy efficiency in buildings than the base code that is otherwise mandatory for municipalities across the state,” according to the city’s website.
Municipalities also can look at adopting their own versions of a renewable energy quota for their own buildings, Davis said.
The results of the federal election “mean less to me” than some of the other panelists, she said, because “from the city level you can continue to do so much more.”
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