Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick, making his second appearance at MIT this month, told an enthusiastic crowd at Kresge Auditorium on Tuesday--the 39th anniversary of the first Earth Day--that clean energy has the potential to bring about an economic bonanza for the commonwealth at the same time that it improves the planet's well-being.
"If we get this right, the whole world will be our customer," Patrick said of his plans to make Massachusetts a hotbed of both innovation and implementation in solar, wind and other clean energy alternatives.
Patrick said state regulations must be updated to give renewable energy projects a fair shake. At present, he said, there are "built-in biases" that favor fossil fuel. For example, a provision that allows the state to override local objections and permit the construction of new power plants only applies to large plants, and thus almost exclusively affects fossil-fuel plants. "Ironically," he said, "the only [renewable] plant large enough to be affected by this law is the most controversial--Cape Wind, which I enthusiastically support."
Despite strong opposition to that offshore wind project from most of Massachusetts' political leaders, Patrick said that if it does get built as the nation's first major offshore wind installation, it would be a powerful symbol of a new direction in energy policy.
A new energy reform bill now being hammered out in a state legislature conference committee, Patrick said, "will revolutionize energy policy in this state." One of the reforms he wants to see incorporated in the bill is a restructuring of electric utility regulation to promote energy efficiency--"the cleanest energy of all," he said.
Currently, rate structures "reward our utilities for selling as much as they can," but that must be changed in order to reap the enormous benefits of efficiency. Changing that policy will be "good news for consumers, and good news for renewable energy," he said.
In addition, to promote the development of solar energy, Massachusetts has forged "the first alliance of utilities and solar manufacturers in the whole country," Patrick said. One sign of that alliance is the recent announcement of Evergreen Solar--a manufacturer of solar panels that was a spin-off of MIT research--to triple its manufacturing capacity in the state, creating 1,000 jobs. In addition, state rebates will pay up to 60 percent of homeowners' costs for installing photovoltaic panels.
"Thanks to places like MIT, with its Energy Initiative, Massachusetts is becoming a center of solar research," he said. Noting an overall U.S. trend away from manufacturing jobs and toward information-based work, he said that "Clean energy is one knowledge-based technology that produces jobs across the spectrum"--everything from construction trade work to manufacturing, managerial, academic and research positions.
Patrick said that while some might find it odd to spend Earth Day talking about the building of a new industry, it really isn't. "I hope everyone will help us build, right here in Massachusetts, a clean energy industry that saves the world," he said, to a resounding standing ovation.
A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on April 30, 2008 (download PDF).