Project merit does not appear to be the driver of the renewables’ sector in Massachusetts. The money trail reveals crony capitalists moving through revolving doors while they collect public subsidies. When politics influences renewable policy, publicly-funded, non-solutions to our energy needs, and less reliable and more costly projects, like the proposed offshore Cape Wind project, are advanced.
Gov. Deval Patrick has just cut the ceremonial green ribbon for the “Ambri” Liquid Metal Battery (LMB), manufacturing plant in Marlborough. The Advanced Research Project Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) award of $6,949,624 to Massachusetts Institute of Technology supports the storage battery technology by MIT Professor Donald Sadoway at a stage, “too early for private-sector investment.”
Massachusetts Clean Energy Center (MACEC), which collects ratepayer surcharges to fund renewable projects, has announced $734,134 will fund five projects, “including Cambridge-based Ambri Inc. (with the Massachusetts Military Reservation, Raytheon, Analysis Group and Mass Development Finance Agency) – $150,000 (with a $452,355 match) to assist in demonstrating Ambri’s liquid metal battery technology, an energy storage system that will help better understand how large-scale systems can help a multitude of needs.”
Phil Guidice, the CEO of Ambri, is a confluence of influence and former chair of the Massachusetts Renewable Energy Trust, now part of the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center funding Ambri. Guidice has served as commissioner of the Department of Energy, and as Undersecretary of Energy of the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs. Guidice was appointed by former U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu to the U.S. DOE’s Energy Efficiency and Renewables Advisory Committee.
Phil Guidice led the team that invested over $54 million in federal stimulus dollars in energy efficiency and renewable energy projects in Massachusetts. Prior to joining the Patrick administration, Guidice was senior vice president of EnerNOC, which was awarded 20 percent of the state’s ARRA stimulus for a $10 million contract, by Guidice’s energy department.
Ambri’s batteries are a theoretical solution to the actual problem that wind energy requires back-up conventional energy sources, due to the intermittent nature of wind. Ambri has announced that this nascent technology will be deployed in Hawaii by partnership with UPC First Wind. Ambri’s battery storage plans for Hawaii come as a shock to folks living there, who are well acquainted with the hazards of molten lead, battery storage fires, and with Ambri’s partner, UPC First Wind.
UPC First Wind is Boston-based, and the Hawaii wind developer for Kahuku Wind project that remains offline following a catastrophic battery storage facility fire. The Hawaii Free Press (Oct. 9, 2013, “Playing with Fire: Kahuku to Install Molten Magnesium Batteries”) bemoans the arrival of Ambri, and return of their partner, First Wind, “16 months after the inevitable Kahuku wind farm battery fire spewed molten lead across the sacred ‘aina, First Wind, the company that couldn’t see the August, 2012 fire coming even after two earlier fires, is doing it again.”
A confluence of the influential is thriving in the green sector, while citizens required to fund politically favored green initiatives remain jobless and overburdened tax and ratepayers. Public officials appear too closely aligned with industry and businesses that rely on public funding. It’s difficult to distinguish the regulator from the regulated. Businesses take actions based on their bottom line, and these actions may conflict with public interest.
Our collective wealth continues to morph into socialized debt with Evergreen Solar, Beacon Power, Boston Power, A123 Systems, and Konarka Technologies. The Solyndras of Massachusetts will cease when public and environmental merits drive Massachusetts energy policies.
Barbara Durkin lives in Northborough.
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