Pushing Forward to Build a Clean Energy Future

Seth Kaplan

Recently the Governor of Massachusetts gave a very inspiring speech describing both the affirmative steps that have been taken to address the challenge of building a thriving and clean economy in the Bay State and the challenges that still lie ahead.

The occasion was an event organized by the New England Clean Energy Council and hosted by high-tech startup FastCAP Systems and featured an array of interesting speakers leading up to Governor Patrick including a young woman who is the sole female crew chief at local energy efficiency provider Next Step Living, the Town Administrator of Scituate MA discussing their successful efforts to build a wind turbine and the toughest of environmentalists, Andrew Ference of the Boston Bruins.

The toughest environmentalist around: Boston Bruin Andrew Ference, speaking before Gov. Patrick, May 30, 2012

Governor Patrick, as has been reported, used the occasion to respond to criticism of the energy policy that his administration, and the Federal government, have been pursuing:

Our strategy of fostering a clean tech industry is sometimes derided as “picking winners and losers.” In fact government is doing what it is supposed to do: helping the state make the most of our competitive advantages. Investing in innovation, education and infrastructure. Putting policies in place that encourage private investment to meet our shared needs, creating jobs and leaving the Commonwealth better than we found it. And as I said, it’s what Americans have always done to shape our energy future.

 And by the way, let me tell you that I have heard enough about Evergreen – and for that matter about Solyndra. We are not always going to score. But we are never going to score if we don’t get in the game. One company that comes up short hardly discredits an initiative that has spawned 5,000 thriving companies and nearly 70,000 jobs and counting. Critics would do well to remember that I used to work in the oil industry, an industry that frequently drills dry wells. When the critics are ready to talk about the massive subsidies for Big Oil even when they drill dry wells, then I am ready to have a serious conversation about the tiny subsidies we use to foster a new, American-grown industry in alternative energy.

 Whether we like it or not, there are going to be winners and losers when it comes to clean energy in the 21st century. The winners will be those places that did everything they could to be ready for change, that created an atmosphere for and a culture of innovation.

But his message went beyond recognition of the growth in the clean energy sectors of the Massachusetts economy.  He also recognized “Winners don’t stand still, and if we want Massachusetts to stay a winner in clean energy, there is much more for us to do.”

His specific action items included putting solar panels on more rooftops and closed landfills, extending contracts to large-scale renewable energy developers,redoubling our commitment to squeezing every bit of efficiency out of our energy use and continuing our support of and participation in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, which he accurately described as “the single most successful cap and trade market in the country.”

All laudable goals, which he tied to moving forward a good energy bill in the Massachusetts legislature.

The Governor is right in taking pride in what has been accomplished in Massachusetts, most especially the ramp up in solar energy generation and energy efficiency. He is also correct in seeing these successes as a good starting point for even more action – and CLF as an advocacy organization is intently focused on this question of “what is next”, an attitude that perhaps led to the Governor’s public characterization (in response to a question at the same event) of CLF as an organization that shares his goals but “can be a bit of a pain in the ass . . . although that means you are doing your job.”

The next steps before us are clear, although not easy.  They range from appropriately funding the transit systems that provide clean and affordable transportation, to fostering urban “smart growth” to the essential (but wonky) energy policy details of expanded long term contracts for renewable energy projects across New England that supply energy to Massachusetts and expanded net metering and property tax relief for small renewable energy projects.

The time has come to have the courage of our convictions and the confidence to build on a winning record – recognizing that the struggle to build a thriving new clean energy economy that puts us a trajectory to meet the challenge of global warming will not be easy but that it is a challenge we can’t avoid, and that can bring our best.

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