May 31, 2012

Patrick prods house on energy front, bill expected this week

By Andy Metzger, Statehouse News Service | 30 May 2012

The drive toward a clean energy future in Massachusetts is firing on all cylinders and the House should keep the movement going by advancing a bill dealing with renewable energy and electricity prices, Gov. Deval Patrick told a crowd in Boston’s Innovation District Wednesday.

“When I took office, Massachusetts had a nominal commitment to renewable energy but had gotten precious little done. Indeed we had a combined total of only about six megawatts of solar and wind energy here, barely enough to power a community college campus,” Patrick told the crowd at FastCAP Systems lab and manufacturing space. “By the end of this month we’ll have 115 megawatts of solar aloneā€¦ By the end of this year we will be more than halfway to our 2017 goal of 250 megawatts.”

Patrick called on the House to quicken strides toward lower fossil fuel usage by taking up legislation (S 2214) the Senate passed in early April that would encourage more clean energy and competition among utility companies.

“I want the House to act on a similar bill, and help build on the state’s clean energy leadership, and to do it before the end of this term,” Patrick said.

While the Senate bill is before the House Ways and Means Committee, the Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy is working on a bill that House Chairman John Keenan (D-Salem) described as similar to the Senate’s legislation.

“We are hopeful of actually having a finalized bill [to send to the Ways and Means Committee] by the end of this week, actually,” Keenan told the News Service on Wednesday afternoon. “We would expect to expand upon what the Green Communities Act did.”

During his speech, which mainly extolled the state’s gains, Patrick also struck back at critics who have faulted the state and federal governments for investing public resources in clean technology companies, which later failed.

“I have heard enough about Evergreen, and for that matter about Solyndra,” said Patrick, brimming with emotion. “Critics would do well to remember that I used to work in the oil industry, an industry that frequently drills dry wells.”

Patrick compared “tiny subsidies” to grow alternative energy companies with “massive subsidies for Big Oil.” He added, “One company that comes up short hardly discredits an initiative that has spawned 5,000 thriving companies and nearly 70,000 jobs and counting.”

The push to lower fossil fuel usage is a multi-faceted effort that involves everything from the construction of a towering wind turbine to one person’s decision to walk to a nearby store rather than drive. The speakers gathered in the Innovation District reflected that diversity. While many wore suits, a 21-year-old insulation installer wore work boots and one clean-energy advocate wore a Stanley Cup ring.

“You take responsibility for trying to make an entire region proud. I think those things happen on and off the ice,” said Bruins defenseman Andrew Ference, an avid bicyclist who said he recycles and composts. “There’s a lot of talk in hockey about respect, and I think this respect carries over to our future generations we’re going to hand this environment over to.”

The venue, in a lab that aims to reduce the cost of hybrid electric vehicles, was part of Patrick’s message. Speaking over the hum of exhaust fans and under fluorescent lights, Patrick pitched the idea that developing clean energy helps boost the local economy while also providing future savings.

People and businesses in Massachusetts spend $20 billion annually on energy, Patrick said, and only $2 billion of that stays within the state – the rest going to the areas with oil, coal and natural gas deposits. Building solar and wind power stations provides construction jobs, keeps the money local and benefits the local companies working on innovations in that sector.

“Massachusetts has long been a high-cost state when it comes to energy. With no oil, coal or natural gas of our own, we are at the end of the pipeline and as such are subject to the whims of the global energy market,” Patrick said.

Beyond limiting rate increases, the Senate’s energy-cost legislation would require energy companies to enter into long-term contracts with renewable energy providers.

While declining to share details of the legislation before it is completed, Keenan said the House’s version will “not be in complete sync” with the Senate’s legislation, which is currently before Ways and Means.

“We’re doing our best to touch base with stakeholders on all sides,” said Keenan, who said the aim is to “keep Massachusetts competitive in terms of its business climate” and add green jobs.

Patrick said that biogas, derived from food and yard waste, is an emerging sector in the state’s energy sector, and said much of the state’s energy demands would be met with the construction of a large wind farm in Nantucket Sound known as Cape Wind.

The long-stalled proposed project has garnered interest from 10 developers and would provide 4,000 megawatts of energy, enough to power 1.7 million homes in Massachusetts, Patrick said.

Prompted by a question from the audience, Patrick knocked the record of former Gov. Mitt Romney, the Republican candidate challenging President Barack Obama.

At first, Patrick diffused blame for the lack of action on clean energy, saying “We had a nominal commitment to clean energy for a long time” before Romney, but then Patrick knocked Romney’s time on Beacon Hill without mentioning his predecessor by name.

“There’s a difference between having the job and doing the job,” Patrick said, drawing oohs from the audience. “There’s a very important difference between this administration and the one that preceded it.”

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