Governor Deval Patrick: Clean Energy a 'Better Idea'
May 1, 2008 10:54 AM
By Stephanie Ebbert and Matt Viser, Globe Staff
Governor Deval Patrick this morning called on business leaders to embrace his vision for the state's emerging clean energy industry, both to reduce their own costs and to boost the state's economy by capitalizing on a growing field.
"The Stone Age didn't end, as somebody said, because we ran out of stone, but because humankind had a better idea," Patrick said in a speech before the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce this morning at Westin Copley Place. "
Clean energy is a better idea -- better for our pocketbooks, better for the planet, and better for our economy."
Deval Patrick also highlighted his support for the controversial Cape Wind project, which would install 130 wind turbines in Nantucket Sound.
"I believe, on balance, Cape Wind is good for Massachusetts, both practically and symbolically," Patrick said. "...Before too long, I believe, the first offshore wind farm in America will be located just off the coast of Massachusetts, a powerful statement of our commitment to a clean energy future."
Convinced that the age of fossil fuels is coming to a close, the governor hopes to seize on the imagination of business leaders to make Massachusetts the center of the clean energy industry through incentives that would eliminate the gas tax on certain biofuels and recruit innovative renewable energy firms to develop their technologies in the Bay State.
"The age of fossil fuels is passing," Deval Patrick said. "If we act now, the age of clean energy is ours."
The governor also outlined his vision for a regional pact to limit the carbon content of fuels, similar to the pact aimed at reducing power plant emissions that contribute to global warming.
"I believe New England governors can develop a common agenda to reduce emissions from vehicle fuels, and in the process make New England the most energy-efficient region in the country," he said.
Last summer, the administration concluded that the clean energy sector was poised to overtake textiles as the 10th largest industry in the Commonwealth.
The sector - including consultants, energy efficiency specialists, and university researchers working on clean energy - now employs some 556 firms and 14,400 people in the Bay State, according to a survey prepared for the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative's Renewable Energy Trust.
The governor this morning made his case by pointing to historically high gasoline prices, the threat of global climate change, as well as the quarter of a billion dollars in private capital already invested in clean energy technologies in Massachusetts.
Deval Patrick, whose legislative proposals have often run into roadblocks in the House, also highlighted his legislative successes in the energy arena. A conference committee is negotiating House and Senate versions of Patrick-backed bills on energy efficiency and ocean management. Legislative leaders also agree in principle on Deval Patrick's first-in-the-nation plan to require a blend of biofuels to be used in home heating oil.
Biofuels are substitutes for gas, diesel, or heating oil derived from renewable organic matter such as corn, soy, switchgrass, wood, waste oil, or agricultural waste. Ethanol has been criticized in recent months due to renewed scrutiny of the energy it takes to grow the corn that produces it and because farmers' reliance on ethanol-producing corn crops has displaced wheat fields and sent the cost of grains skyrocketing.
Instead, Deval Patrick wants to advance cellulosic ethanol, an alternative that Massachusetts-based companies are rushing to bring to market as an alternative. It uses nonfood plant material and is processed differently.
A bill embraced by Deval Patrick and the leaders of both the House and Senate would create a gas tax exemption for ethanol that is derived from switchgrass or agricultural waste.
"Energy is one of the areas we've been in lockstep on throughout," said David Guarino, spokesman for House Speaker Salvatore F. DiMasi, with whom Deval Patrick has repeatedly clashed.
A task force report on advanced biofuels released last month found the biofuels industry could create thousands of jobs and generate $280 million to $1 billion a year for the Massachusetts economy by 2025.
The governor has already touted successes in attracting and fostering alternative energy firms, including a solar panel factory that Evergreen Solar is building in Devens, a wind turbine testing facility in the shadow of the Tobin Bridge, and a pilot facility that GreatPoint Energy is building in Somerset to convert coal and biomass to natural gas.
Many traditional businesses have embraced energy efficiency to cut their costs, and they support the added efficiencies built into the energy bill making its way through the Legislature.
"We're looking to reduce the price of electricity in Massachusetts," said Robert A. Rio, senior vice president of government affairs for Associated Industries of Massachusetts. However, he said that he doubts the influx of new alternative energy would displace high energy costs anytime soon and that he does not want to see the Deval Patrick administration overemphasize clean energy incentives at the expense of other industries.
"It's nice to encourage companies to move here," Rio said. "But at the same time we shouldn't turn our backs on companies that have been here for 50 to 75 years that are struggling because of high energy costs."