Despite a handful of high-profile setbacks last year, Massachusetts’ clean energy industry is alive and thriving, according to Gov. Deval Patrick’s top environmental official.
The bankruptcy of state-subsidized Evergreen Solar in Marlborough was perhaps the most prominent letdown for the Bay State’s green industry in 2011. But in the big picture, the field is healthy, said Rick Sullivan, state secretary for Energy and Environmental Affairs.
Statewide, jobs in clean energy grew 6.7 percent last year, totaling about 64,000 positions ranging from solar panel installers to engineers, Sullivan said. Job growth in this sector is expected to roughly double this year, according to Sullivan.
“It is an important part of the Massachusetts economy,” he said in a recent interview with GateHouse Media New England editors.
There is some independent support for this view: The national Solar Foundation last year listed Massachusetts as the 10th highest state in the nation for solar industry jobs.
Sullivan sought to highlight gains in developing clean energy jobs, cutting demand for power or shifting more of it to renewable sources, and cutting greenhouse gas emissions.
He acknowledged the failure of Evergreen, which last year shut down a manufacturing plant in Devens, filed for bankruptcy and sold its assets to a Chinese company.
“That’s not an outcome anybody would have liked,” Sullivan said.
Evergreen received millions of dollars in state subsidies. The state is still trying to recoup at least some of that money.
Sullivan said the company’s troubles led the state to seek stronger reporting requirements from companies that receive public support and “clawback” provisions to recover public funding if necessary.
“Without question, state government has looked at how you would move forward with any of these agreements,” Sullivan said.
Overall, Sullivan compared the state’s support for the clean energy industry to a diverse investment portfolio.
There are now more than 4,900 companies working in the Bay State’s green industry, according to the quasi-public Massachusetts Clean Energy Center.
On the whole, “our strategy has been successful,” Sullivan said.
He cited numerous companies that are doing well, such as A123 Systems, a lithium-ion battery maker with offices in Watertown, Waltham, Westborough and Hopkinton, and Brookfield Power and Vestas, two other clean energy firms in Marlborough.
In the meantime, solar equipment is becoming more competitive with traditional energy on the open market, and the state has scaled back rebates available for such gear several times, Sullivan said.
“The goal of the program is ultimately not to have to incent the price of solar,” he said.
Sullivan also described progress on other energy goals.
Patrick aims to see 250 megawatts of solar power installed in Massachusetts by 2017 and 2,000 megawatts of wind power by 2020. Solar is farthest along, with 72 megawatts installed and 28 megawatts under development, Sullivan said.
There are 44 megawatts of wind power installed in the state thus far, with another 56 megawatts under development, he said.
National Grid has agreed to purchase half the power from the offshore Cape Wind project, which has an average expected production of 174 megawatts.
In 2005, the state produced less than 1 megawatt of either solar or wind power. Overall, the state used about 50 million megawatt hours of electricity in 2010, according to Sullivan’s office.
The state also is on track to meet its goal of cutting its greenhouse gas emissions 25 percent below 1990 levels by 2020, Sullivan said.
Much of the progress on that front has been a result of utility-run energy efficiency programs greatly expanded under the state’s Green Communities Act, he said.
One of the state’s few remaining coal-fired power plants, Salem Harbor, is slated to close in 2014, which will trim the state’s greenhouse emissions, too.
While making headway, the state still has a way to go to meet its goal under the Green Communities Act of getting a quarter of its electricity from renewable sources by 2030.
In 2010, New England got a little more than 6 percent of its power from renewable sources, according to Sullivan’s office. The region got about 46 percent of its power from natural gas, 30 percent from nuclear plants, 11 percent from coal and 6 percent from hydropower.
Attorney General Martha Coakley recently warned the Green Communities Act could drive up electric rates about 7 percent over the next four years. State environmental officials say the plan ultimately will yield greater savings and help wean Massachusetts off fossil fuels from out-of-state.
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