The air was thick with anticipation as US Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar stepped to the microphone, even though the news he was about to make had already leaked out. With reporters jammed into the room at the Massachusetts State House and a bank of television cameras lined up against the back wall, Salazar announced that he was granting the final federal approval needed for the Cape Wind project.
After nine years of regulatory hurdles and fierce opposition from some on Cape Cod, the controversial wind energy project, which calls for 130 turbines to be anchored five miles off the Cape in Nantucket Sound, looked like it was actually going to happen. It would be the first offshore wind farm in the United States and would represent a major milestone for the US renewable energy industry and a big victory for Gov. Deval Patrick, who has been a vigorous advocate for the project.
Standing behind Salazar at the late April press conference, Patrick had an understandably satisfied look. So much so in fact that, if it bothered him, he never let it show when Salazar twice referred to him as “Governor Deval.” When it comes to clean energy, context is everything, as Patrick made clear when asked about the name flub a few weeks later. “He can call me just about anything when he comes with news like that,” he says.
That’s because the news Salazar delivered was the single biggest development yet in Patrick’s all-out effort to position Massachusetts as a national—and global—leader in the drive to develop alternative energy. “America needs offshore wind power, and with this project Massachusetts will lead the nation,” Patrick said in his remarks that day. He then invoked what has become his mantra, a line he started using during the 2006 campaign and one he seems to repeat at every opportunity. “If we get clean energy right, the whole world will be our customer,” Patrick declared.
There is a lot going on in Massachusetts and the emerging clean energy sector that would support Patrick’s lofty vision. But exactly what does it mean to get clean energy “right?” The state is investing in clean tech companies, rolling out hefty subsidies, and trying to grow jobs and support manufacturing in a global economy that can be harsh in sorting out winners and losers. There are a lot of moving parts and things that could go wrong. But it’s also clear that you can’t win if you don’t play.
The clean energy movement—and the effort in Massachusetts to play a big role in it—is being propelled by an underlying narrative, which touches on everything from climate change to national security. From that context it is easy to argue that we need a radical break with our prevailing energy habits, and we must be willing to bear some of the cost of getting to that better energy future. That makes it very different from other recent technology waves, such as the computer boom of the 1980s. There was an overwhelming technology and market-driven logic behind the computer industry’s explosive growth. Companies kept delivering higher performing computers at lower costs, creating an entirely new way to communicate and process information, touching on virtually every aspect of modern life.
The effort to shift the course of our energy future is being driven by a far more complex and challenging set of conditions. To begin with, it does not herald an entire new way of life as much as it represents an attempt to transform an existing $6 trillion global industry by replacing some of its basic building blocks. “In order to succeed, you have to be competitive and you have to match the quality and reliability of the offerings that are already out there, provided by big, powerful, incumbent firms that have had decades to optimize their operations,” says Richard Lester, director of the Industrial Performance Center at MIT and head of the university’s department of nuclear science and engineering. “This makes innovation in the energy sector really a tough business.”
The transformation of our energy world will depend ultimately on the technological innovation behind cleaner energy sources, but the momentum needed to support that innovation requires broad acceptance of a set of basic assumptions. The most prominent of these is that the world faces a whole host of impacts from climate change caused by the use of fossil fuels that will, if unchecked, prove catastrophic. There are also important national security concerns about the military and human costs of protecting oil interests in the Middle East. Finally, there is tremendous uncertainty about the long-term costs of energy and the supply of fossil fuels, with worldwide energy use projected to double by 2050. Layered on top of all that are the economics of renewable energy technologies like wind and solar power, which are not yet competitive with fossil fuels, a situation that requires a heavy governmental hand to stimulate and subsidize the clean energy sector.
Not everyone finds the narrative to be compelling. At a recent conference in Boston of clean energy entrepreneurs, conservative contrarian George Gilder was part of a panel considering whether the industry was vulnerable to speculative economic bubbles. “Clean tech, as far as I can see, is worse than a bubble; it’s a boondoggle,” said Gilder, who doubted the dangers of rising carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere and dismissed the sudden embrace of “worthless medieval technologies like windmills.”
To market purists like Gilder, the clearest proof of the folly of it all is the involvement of government in boosting almost every facet of the emerging clean energy sector. “Anything that needs to be subsidized by government is likely to be perverted and it’s likely to yield far less than it costs,” he said.
Most policymakers and energy industry leaders, however, think it’s imperative that we develop alternative energy and lower our carbon emissions. That message was delivered during a visit this spring to Cambridge by no less of a fossil fuel spokesman than the CEO of Eni, a $159 billion Italian oil and gas company that ranks 17th on the Fortune 500 list of largest global corporations. Paolo Scaroni was at MIT for the dedication of a solar energy research center, funded with part of the $50 million that Eni has pledged to support energy research at MIT. “Oil one day will be finished,” he said at the dedication of the center. That day is not imminent, perhaps 100 years off, but preparing for it is imperative, he said.
Wits and widgets
In sounding the call for energy innovation, Scaroni also endorsed the view that big breakthroughs will come from places like MIT. “If only 10 percent of what I’ve seen will materialize, it will change the world,” Scaroni said of the several days he spent at the Cambridge campus.
The combination of world-renowned research universities and an investment and entrepreneurial culture eager to tap cutting-edge innovation are formidable assets that position Massachusetts to play a big role in the nation’s energy future. As Ian Bowles, Patrick’s secretary of energy and environment, framed it at a Boston University energy forum this spring, “Massachusetts should be a disproportionate beneficiary of the transition to a clean energy future.”
Last year, Massachusetts ranked second in the amount of venture capital money invested in clean energy companies. Its $389 million of investments put it behind only California, which saw $2 billion invested, according to Cleantech Group, an energy investment research firm. The state also stands out in the race for energy-related research dollars. In last year’s initial round of funding for a federal Department of Energy program supporting cutting-edge energy research, Massachusetts led the way, with its firms awarded 22 percent of the total outlay of $151 million. California was second with 14 percent.
US Interior Secretary Ken Salazar
While the state’s entire cluster of technology-oriented universities, which includes the University of Massachusetts Lowell and Worcester Polytechnic Institute, is key to our clean-energy success, MIT is clearly the flagship when it comes to research that is making its way into commercial applications.
Five years ago, soon after taking office as MIT president, Susan Hockfield committed the university to playing an even greater role in energy research. In an interview, Hockfield says the interlocking issues of climate change and reducing the use of fossil fuels represent “this era’s greatest challenge.”
In 2006, the university launched the MIT Energy Initiative, a university-wide effort that draws on expertise from across the campus to take on the challenge. Fully one-quarter of MIT faculty have participated in one way or another. And in a sign of the intellectual enthusiasm for the issue, more than 2,000 students have joined the MIT Energy Club, which sponsors everything from lecture series to a monthly “energy happy hour.”
Hockfield has emerged as a leading spokeswoman for more federal spending on energy research. A neuroscientist by training, she points to the enormous strides in the treatment of AIDS and other conditions that have resulted from substantial federal support for biomedical research. Hockfield says we have failed to devote anywhere near the level of federal support needed to tackle the energy challenge the world is facing. In 2006, at the time the MIT energy initiative was started, the federal government was spending $1 billion less on energy research and development than it had a decade earlier.
MIT is certainly pulling its own weight, however, when it comes to energy research and tech-transfer—the crucial process of converting of research findings into commercial applications. “I often say that MIT was founded with tech-transfer in its DNA,” says Hockfield.
Making it in Massachusetts
A123 Systems is one of the results of that DNA coding. The Watertown–based battery and energy storage company, started in 2001 with a $100,000 grant from the federal Department of Energy, is an example of the promise of clean tech to the state’s economy as well as the challenges the sector faces.
The company has made huge strides in the design of rechargeable lithium ion batteries, improving their safety, lifespan, and the power they can deliver, objectives that have often been technologically incompatible. The work is the brainchild of Yet-Ming Chiang, a materials science and engineering professor at MIT. In 2001, Chiang shared his ideas with Bart Riley, an engineer he knew who had more than a decade of experience applying research breakthroughs in industry. They joined with Ric Fulop, who Riley calls a “serial entrepreneur,” to found the company. “We came about as a result of this start-up ‘ecosystem’ in the Boston area,” says Riley. “He was the idea guy,” Riley says of Chiang. “I was the make-it-real guy, and Ric was the business guy.”
By 2009, the company was flying high and went public in an initial stock offering that raised $378 million. Last year, A123 won a $249 million grant from the US Department of Energy to develop an advanced production facility in Michigan that will make batteries for plug-in hybrid and all-electric cars, part of a $2.4 billion federal effort to support innovation in the US auto industry. The company also received generous financial incentives from Michigan to locate the plant there. But Massachusetts has not lost out entirely.
In April, A123 announced plans to develop a unit in Hopkinton to produce large-scale storage batteries that connect to the power grid. These huge, trailer-sized battery units will become increasingly important for storing electricity from wind and solar projects, which generate power intermittently. The state gave the company a $5 million loan that will be forgiven if it follows through on its promise to add 250 new jobs in Massachusetts.
It’s the kind of investment state officials say is critical to ensuring a robust clean energy sector in Massachusetts. Over the last several years, the state has invested more than $33 million in companies through the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center. Mass Development, a quasi-public state agency, has awarded an additional $27 million in loans, grants, and other forms of aid.
Although A123 officials say they are determined to have a manufacturing presence in the US, most of their manufacturing to date has taken place in Asia, at production facilities in China and South Korea. That highlights a major challenge facing the clean tech industry, and a perennial one faced by companies in the technology-oriented Massachusetts economy: While brainpower and entrepreneurial know-how make this a fertile environment for innovation, the manufacturing jobs that successful innovation can give rise to often end up elsewhere.
One of the main reasons why A123’s first manufacturing plant was in China, says Dave Vieau, the company’s chief executive, is because “98 percent-plus of lithium ion batteries were being produced in Asia.” On top of the low capital and labor costs in Asia, it simply made sense to set up shop in a place where the relevant manufacturing processes were already well established.
Test engineer at A123 manufacturing
That is a big problem facing US industry in general and the clean energy sector in particular, say Gary Pisano and Willy Shih, Harvard Business School professors who study economic competitiveness. They authored an article last year in the Harvard Business Review that lays out the danger as more and more manufacturing by US firms takes place overseas. The problem, they argue, is that a lot of the ongoing innovation that takes place with products occurs in the manufacturing process itself, a phenomenon that explains how virtually the entire rechargeable battery industry, which once had a significant presence in the US, migrated over time to Asia.
“Once manufacturing is outsourced, process-engineering expertise can’t be maintained, since it depends on daily interactions with manufacturing,” they write. “In the long term, then, an economy that lacks an infrastructure for advanced process engineering and manufacturing will lose its ability to innovate.”
It’s a view that A123’s board chairman, Desh Deshpande, shares wholeheartedly. “The thinkers and the doers have to be together,” says Deshpande, a co-founder of the IT company Sycamore Networks who donated $20 million to launch the Deshpande Center for Technological Innovation at MIT. Deshpande says manufacturing can only thrive in Massachusetts through advanced processes that drive down the “labor content” of products. “If our standard of living is four times that of the average in China, every worker [here] has to be four times more productive,” he says.
Konarka Technologies, a Lowell–based solar company with roots at that city’s UMass campus, found fertile ground in Massachusetts not only for its innovation and start-up but for manufacturing as well. But it may be more the exception than rule.
Last year, the company, whose products include a light-weight solar film that can be embedded on backpacks and café umbrellas, opened a manufacturing facility in a former Polaroid production plant in New Bedford. Because of the significant overlap between Konarka’s solar film processes and those used by now-shuttered Polaroid, the company has been able to adapt and reuse 80 to 90 percent of the existing equipment at the plant. What’s more, the initial 25 employees hired at the facility include a core group of 13 former Polaroid workers, who had years of experience with the plant and its workings. “We had a ready-made, trained workforce that’s ready to go,” says Rick Hess, Konarka’s CEO.
Hess says those serendipitous circumstances, plus the low cost of the print-based manufacturing process Konarka uses, made for an unusually favorable climate to pursue manufacturing in Massachusetts. “I don’t think there will be a ton more companies that will be as fortunate or be in as good a position to do that,” he says.
A report issued in April by the state’s Clean Energy Center comes to a similar conclusion. “Although the state should seek to attract and retain manufacturing where possible,” it says Massachusetts is unlikely to host large-scale clean tech manufacturing and should therefore “mainly focus on extending its leadership as a hub of research breakthroughs and innovation excellence.”
Leveling the playing field
In May, the New England Clean Energy Council, an industry advocacy group formed in 2007, organized a trip to Washington, DC for leaders of the region’s clean energy firms to meet with elected officials. At a clean tech forum in Boston prior to the trip, the council’s co-chairman, Nick d’Arbeloff, was asked what he thought the group’s top three priorities would be.
“The price of carbon, the price of carbon, and the price of carbon,” he replied.
D’Arbeloff was referring to legislation that has been stalled in the Senate to create a national policy to address climate change by imposing costs on emitters of heat-trapping gases that scientists say are the main cause of global warming. The principle behind levying a cost on carbon emissions comes from the economic concept of “externalities,” the idea that fossil fuels have harmful effects that are not accounted for in the costs incurred by the emitters of such greenhouse gases.
“People are beginning to realize that many companies use the sky as their dumping ground, and there is a huge price ultimately that society is going to have to pay,” says Edward Markey, the Massachusetts congressman who is co-sponsor of the Waxman-Markey climate legislation that passed the House of Representatives last year.
Attaching a cost to carbon emissions is crucial for the clean energy sector because raising the cost of burning fossil fuels would make renewable energy sources like wind and solar power more competitive and strengthen the economic argument for investing in energy efficiency measures.
“We can’t let fossil fuels be priced as if they caused no harm,” says d’Arbeloff. Those trying to develop the clean energy economy “are not looking for a handout or a thumb on the scale,” he says. “They are simply looking for an even playing field.”
Lester, the MIT Industrial Performance Center director, thinks we need a significant change in our patterns of energy use within the next 30 to 40 years to stave off the most catastrophic effects of climate change. He says innovation that lowers the cost of renewable energy will ultimately have to drive that change. But “economic incentives created by the play of market forces alone won’t be enough to drive energy transformation on the scale and in the timeframe required,” Lester wrote in a paper this spring.
That is the rationale for recalibrating the market by attaching a price to carbon dioxide emissions and for other public policy steps to support clean energy. Massachusetts has been a leader in state-based efforts to do that, with such moves as its membership in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a consortium of 10 northeast states that has applied a modest tax on major carbon-emitting power plants. Patrick has pursued a very aggressive policy agenda in his first term, winning passage of three sweeping pieces of energy legislation that, among other things, set standards for use of renewable energy sources by utilities, steer money from utility-bill surcharges to support energy efficiency work, and provide grants, loans, and other incentives to clean energy companies.
Taken together, the various initiatives are having the effect of “goosing the market,” says Kevin Doyle, a local consultant who studies workforce needs in the clean energy sector. “It’s no secret that the growth of clean energy is completely tied up with appropriate government policies,” he says. “Until renewables are the same or cheaper on the pure market, government policy is an essential driver for whether or not people will create jobs, build businesses, and have a reasonable rate of return on their investment.”
One state initiative to directly stimulate the market is a subsidy program that has spent $135 million in state and federal funds to underwrite the cost of installing solar panels on residential and commercial properties.
Dan Leary, who served as a captain in the US Army in Kuwait before heading to business school at UMass Amherst, put together a business plan for his final class that involved taking advantage of state incentives for renewable energy. Nexamp, the company he founded in 2006, has quickly grown from four employees to close to 60. Leary says the company is on track to do about $30 million of business this year, installing solar and wind-power equipment as well as conducting energy audits that identify savings through lighting redesign and other efficiency measures.
Ido Eilam is reaping the benefits of Nexamp’s work and the generous subsidies that are fueling the company’s growth. A founder of SunSetter, a Malden company that makes retractable patio awnings, Eilam contracted with Nexamp last year to install 616 solar panels on the roof of SunSetter’s 64,000 square-foot facility, which houses the firm’s manufacturing operations and offices. Nexamp also overhauled the company’s lighting system. State subsidies covered roughly half the cost of the $750,000 project, while a federal incentive program underwrote another quarter.
Eilam says the company’s electricity purchases from his local utility decreased by 32 percent in January compared with the same month in 2009 and by 41 percent in February. For April, he says, the bill was zero and SunSetter actually received a credit on its electric bill. Through a system known as net metering, customers like SunSetter that are able to generate their own power can direct any excess electricity back into the power grid and get paid for it.
Eilam refers to “the circle” created by the project, since SunSetter’s awnings are designed to keep homes cool in the summer by blocking the sun and reduce the electricity demand on air conditioners. “We’re using the good part of the sun, which means the ability to generate electricity, to make a product that protects people from the bad part of the sun, which is the heat and the UV rays,” he says.
Would he have closed the circle without the huge subsidy? “The honest answer is, maybe no,” says Eilam. He says it would have been very hard to finance the full cost of solar panels, which would take 10 to 12 years to recoup in electricity cost savings compared with the three- or four-year payback period with the deep subsidies he was able to tap.
More than 95 percent of Nexamp’s business relies on state or federal incentive programs. The state adds 10 percent to the subsidy for projects that use solar components made in Massachusetts, something Nexamp is able to do for most installations. Leary calls the subsidies an “interim kick-start” that is spurring development of an industry until it “can drive itself.”
Pat Cloney, the director of the state’s Clean Energy Center, says Massachusetts is looking for ways to kick- start every dimension of the industry, from incentives for promising start-up companies to getting products moving into the market. “How do we spur innovation and then, on the complete other end of the spectrum, how do we create markets?” he asks.
One big development the state hopes will spur both innovation and markets is taking shape along the edges of the Mystic River in Charlestown. The state won $27 million in federal funding to help build the largest wind turbine testing facility in the country. When construction is finished next year on the football-field-size site, the center will be able to test turbine blades as large as 90 meters. The facility will lease testing time to companies developing new turbines, and state officials hope it will eventually lead to turbine manufacturing in the area.
Firms like 1366 Technologies say they are on track to bring the cost of solar power down to the point where it can, in Dan Leary’s words, “drive itself.” The Lexington– based start-up has developed a way to dramatically increase efficiency in the processing of silicon, the main component of most electricity-generating solar panels. With the innovation that is taking place in the industry, the cost of solar panels is dropping by about 10 percent per year, says 1366’s president, Frank van Mierlo. At that rate, solar power will become cheaper than coal-generated electricity by 2020, an achievement that he says will “completely change the world when it happens.”
It’s an exciting prospect, but not one that Patrick and state leaders think we can sit idly waiting for if we hope to be a player in the industry. “Europe is so much farther ahead because government played a role in subsidies. That created a market for solar,” says Patrick. “I’m a capitalist. I believe in markets. But I’m not a market fundamentalist. I don’t think the market always gets it right, and the job of government is to create conditions that foster productive investments.”
Some are concerned that the government doesn’t always get it right, either. Patrick has long pointed to Evergreen Solar, a Marlborough–based solar panel manufacturer, when promoting the state’s clean energy economy. A package of state grants, loans, and incentives worth more than $76 million helped convince the company to build its first US manufacturing plant in Massachusetts. When the plant opened in the summer of 2008, the Boston Globe reported that Patrick called it “a symbol of the future.”
But a year-and-a-half into that future the company, battered by steep price decreases caused by a decline in solar demand due to the global recession and increased competition from China, announced it was shifting its solar panel assembly work to China. Evergreen will continue to produce the solar wafers and modules that make-up the panels in Massachusetts.
Evergreen and state officials are quick to point out that, despite the announcement, the company has more than made good on its pledge to create 350 jobs in Massachusetts. It employs a total of 700 here.
Michael Goodman, a professor of public policy at the University of Massachsuetts–Dartmouth, sits on a state economic development board that approved a tax-incentive award to Evergreen. “In retrospect, it’s clear that the prospects for growth that appeared promising at that time didn’t materialize,” he says. “It underscores how quickly this energy environment and marketplace can change.”
Green jobs fair
A big part of the promise of the clean energy economy, and justification for all the state subsidies, is jobs. But it’s not easy to determine just how many green jobs exist, never mind forecasting how many might be generated going forward. “Whatever numbers we see are probably not correct,” says Lester, the MIT professor. In part that’s because there is no agreed upon definition of what constitutes a clean energy job. Under a broad definition used in a recent US Commerce Department report, green jobs included bicycle sales, long-distance charter bus tours, and even trucking firms that handle hazardous waste.
The US Bureau of Labor Statistics is currently developing standards for a new employment category that will allow for the tracking of green jobs.
A state study in 2007, based on surveys of companies, government agencies and universities, showed 14,400 jobs in 556 different clean tech “entities.” The report projected growth of clean tech jobs of 20 percent per year, far outpacing any other sector, and said clean energy jobs were poised to become the tenth largest sector in the state, overtaking textiles and apparel. But this was before the recession hit in 2008. The state’s Clean Energy Center is now updating the study and its findings are due to be released in August.
A report last year from the Pew Charitable Trusts counted 1,912 green businesses in Massachusetts with a total of 26,678 green jobs. The disparity in the job numbers from the two reports highlights the difficulty of assessing clean tech employment without uniform criteria.
If there’s a single person responsible for generating big hopes for lots of green jobs it is Van Jones. The Oakland, California–based activist has heavily promoted the idea that we can solve the energy challenge and employment crisis, especially for the urban poor, in one fell swoop. It’s an appealing idea, but one that sometimes looks more plausible at 30,000 feet than when brought down to street level.
Jones is author of The Green Collar Economy and briefly served as a special White House advisor on green jobs until forced out last year over a controversial petition he signed about the 9/11 terrorist attacks. He was the subject of a profile last year in The New Yorker, and part of the story was reported from Massachusetts. After addressing a group of high school dropouts in New Bedford, Jones paid a visit to the city’s mayor, Scott Lang, who told him that a solar manufacturer was opening a factory in New Bedford, and that it might eventually hire as many as hundred people.
“Jones brightened,” wrote the New Yorker’s Elizabeth Kolbert, who goes on to describe how Jones pressed Lang to try to help connect some of the young dropouts to these green jobs. But the plant Lang referred to was Konarka’s new manufacturing facility, where former Polaroid workers with years of experience in photographic process manufacturing, not unskilled dropouts, were being hired.
Insulating a home in Dorcester, a green job that can’t
There clearly are jobs being created in the clean energy economy, but there may not be as many as some believe and they won’t necessarily be there for the taking for those without skills who are on the employment margins.
Jim Hunt, Boston’s chief of environmental and energy services, is sipping coffee and talking about the opportunities to change our energy practices and stimulate the economy. “Look out here at these three-deckers,” he says, pointing out the window of a Dorchester Avenue café to the neighborhood’s signature three-family houses, most of them built in the late 1800s and early 1900s. “Virtually all were constructed pre-World War I with no insulation and no thought given to energy prices,” he says, noting that lots of energy efficiency savings are possible here by simple measures such as installing insulation and better windows. “These are labor intensive projects that can’t be sent overseas,” says Hunt.
One morning a few days later, a group of 15 men are listening attentively to Jason Taylor inside the handsome brick building that served as the Mattapan library in Boston before a new branch was opened last year. The bookshelves in the surplus city-owned building are stocked with rolls of insulation batting and spray cans of polyurethane foam sealant. Taylor, wearing a blue jumpsuit with a respirator mask dangling around his neck, is holding court at a four-day weatherization training “boot camp” run by the ABCD, a Boston anti-poverty agency that oversees weatherization projects at the homes of low-income city residents.
ABCD was enlisted to run a series of these sessions until the fall. That’s when seven community colleges across the state are scheduled to take over the training programs under a $1.8 million state initiative to promote green jobs. Another $1 million each is going to agencies that focus on training low-income unemployed or underemployed residents of the state’s Gateway Cities and the state’s vocational technical high schools.
The New England Clean Energy Council produced a report last year that projected the workforce needs of the Massachusetts residential weatherization sector from 2008 to 2012. The report concluded that, between federal funding and a huge infusion of state money for weatherization that is coming from surcharges on customer utility bills, full-time jobs for residential weatherization work will increase from roughly 800 positions in 2008 to 2,700 by 2012. The “market will be a good job supporter, but not phenomenal,” the report concluded. Moreoever, it said, “many jobs will go to incumbent workers at contractors in the field or those in the building trades who migrate to these jobs.”
A coalition of local and national labor and community groups that is pushing for good wages and benefits in weatherization jobs issued a report projecting 6,000 new weatherization jobs in the state, a figure that includes work in both the residential and commercial sectors.
Bruce Ledgerwood, the ABCD official coordinating the boot camps, worked on the residential workforce report. “They talk about being able to sop up all the unemployed construction workers and all the chronically unemployed,” he says of the idea Jones and others have popularized. “In my opinion, the expectations for the number of jobs that are going to materialize is overstated, and that creates tension with some who see energy efficiency as the salvation that’s going to lift everybody up.”
Kevin Doyle, the energy workforce consultant who served as the main author of the report, says it’s important to avoid the inflated job projections that often accompany studies of the casino industry, for example. “Once you start projecting larger than realistic numbers, you’re just setting yourself up for someone to want to throw money at you and someone else to attack you,” says Doyle.
He also says that jobs shouldn’t be the single yardstick by which we assess these efforts. “The environmental community is rightly concerned that if there isn’t this tsunami of jobs predicted by certain activists, will that potentially turn people off from funding energy efficiency for its own sake, for the climate change benefits, the cost savings, and the effect of getting us off fossil fuels?” he asks.
In other words, it all comes back to the context.
That broader perspective is what Patrick invariably brings up when asked about the muscular moves he is making to promote the state’s clean energy economy. The federal approval of the Cape Wind project in April was followed by the announcement by National Grid, the state’s largest electric utility, that it plans to sign a long-term contract to purchase half of the power generated by the project. Because the company will pay much more for the wind-generated power than it would cost to buy the electricity on the open market, the deal will mean an average increase of $1.50 on the monthly electric bill of National Grid’s residential customers. That’s exactly the sort of premium for clean energy that critics say makes it a bad deal and a threat to the state’s economic competitiveness.
Patrick is quick to point out that the average household bill is $20 less today than two years ago, a function of decreasing demand in a sluggish economy and increased supplies of natural gas, the main fuel used to generate electricity in the state. He says those bills could easily jump by $20 again if there is a big increase in the price of natural gas.
“The real comparison is between a buck-fifty and twenty dollars,” says Patrick. “I think most people would choose a buck-fifty for the next 20 years. I think it’s a pretty darn good deal.”
And it’s the kind of deal, he says, that isn’t just a good one when it comes to Cape Wind. “It’s true of this whole industry,” Patrick says. “We have to take the long view. We have to break our dependence on foreign oil, on hydrocarbons, and to secure our energy future. The folks who are smart about that are the winners, and that’s what we are trying to do.”