Gov. Deval Patrick’s top energy and environment adviser called Tuesday for a “revolution” in the state’s green energy sector, urging more than 100 energy company executives to “take the clean energy discussion out to every city or town in the commonwealth of Massachusetts.
“It is now time to turn from reform to energy revolution,” said Richard Sullivan, secretary of energy and environmental affairs, adding, “As we start to move this revolution forward, we need all of you more than ever.”
Sullivan highlighted clean energy laws passed in the 2007-2008 legislative session, including the Green Communities Act – a bill spearheaded by former Speaker Salvatore DiMasi to encourage the expansion of renewable energy, incentivize cities and towns to support local clean energy projects and require utilities to transmit a small percentage of their energy from renewable sources. Although critics have maligned the law as overly prescriptive and a driver of high energy costs, Sullivan hailed the law as “genius” for bringing municipalities into the discussion.
Sullivan addressed company executives at a capitol event hosted by the state Clean Energy Center and the New England Clean Energy Council, a coalition of hundreds of local energy company executives hoping to win support for their sector from lawmakers.
His comments came in a packed hearing room alongside the two lawmakers – Sen. Benjamin Downing (D-Pittsfield) and Rep. John Keenan (D-Salem), co-chairs of the telecommunications, utilities and energy committee – charged by legislative leadership with crafting a bill to reduce energy costs and expand the clean technology sector. Downing and Keenan have been tight-lipped about potential components of that proposal, although Downing said after the event that he hoped to have a bill out next week.
Lt. Gov. Tim Murray also spoke at the event, and he argued that Massachusetts should showcase its clean energy sector – which he said added 65,000 jobs during the recent economic downturn – to make the case for the Department of Defense to continue sending contracts and funds to the Bay State. He noted that 86 communities had taken steps to be labeled Green Communities, which entitles them to technical support from the state, and dozens more had adopted green building codes he said would yield $3.8 billion in energy savings over the long-term. He also said 80 percent of the $22 billion in annual energy costs in Massachusetts “flows out of state to purchase coal from Columbia, oil from Venezuela, natural gas and oil from the Mideast and Canada,” he said.
“We want to make sure that that money is spent here,” he said.
Speaking with reporters after the event, Murray struggled to name any specific policy that state officials could employ to further grow the sector.
“That’s what a day like today is about, to learn whether there are opportunities to grow,” he said. “It’s a winner and we want to continue to grow … You always want the grand slam but its working singles, doubles every day that you’re going to get cities and towns to continue buying into the green energy program.”
Murray suggested that efforts to grow the clean energy sector could be incorporated into an economic development bill that House leaders have said is on the horizon.
“It doesn’t have to be like the Green Communities Act, a standalone piece. It could be an element of an economic development bill,” he said.
Downing told the News Service that although there haven’t been major environmental bills moving in recent years, much of the focus of state officials and lawmakers has been on implementing the Green Communities Act and other components of the state’s environmental policies enacted in 2008. He said he hopes the bill he and Keenan are working on will be “a more comprehensive second step” than some of the “piecemeal proposals” that other lawmakers have filed. He noted that until the Green Communities Act in 2008, the most recent energy policy overhaul came in 1997.
“It’s not odd for there to be time lapses between those big legislative bursts. What you can’t afford to do again is wait another 10 years. Too much has changed,” He said. “There’s too big an opportunity to pass up.”
During the event, Keenan told company officials that he’s been directed by House Speaker Robert DeLeo to “make sure that anything that comes out of our committee is going to create jobs.”
Although much of the day was spent hailing the state’s track record on clean energy issues, it followed a report by environmental groups that warned that cuts to the state’s environmental budget have threatened government’s ability to monitor water quality, encourage recycling and open public parks, campgrounds and beaches.
“The reality is you do less with less,” said George Bachrach, president of the Environmental League of Massachusetts.
In a letter to legislators accompanying the report, Bachrach and ELM’s vice president for policy Nancy Goodman wrote, “While Massachusetts may be perceived as a national environmental leader, we simply don’t have the resources to follow through on much of the good legislation we’ve passed.”