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Obama hails state of innovation

President praises Mass., MIT during green energy speech

By Erin Ailworth
Globe Staff / October 24, 2009

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President Obama blasted critics of his administration’s environmental policies and praised Massachusetts officials for advancing technologies that will yield big benefits for the environment in a speech yesterday in Cambridge.

Speaking for about 20 minutes before a capacity crowd at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Kresge Auditorium, Obama described the university as a leader in the development of alternative energy technologies.

“Extraordinary energy research is being conducted at this institute,’’ he said, mentioning windows that generate electricity, viruses engineered to build batteries, more efficient lighting systems, and “innovative engineering that will make it possible for offshore wind power plants to deliver electricity even when the air is still.’’

According to the White House, Obama’s speech was designed to be a challenge to Americans to lead the global economy in green energy.

“Even in the darkest times, this nation has . . . always sought a brighter horizon,’’ Obama said, adding that countries around the world are “engaged in a peaceful competition’’ to develop new energy technologies.

“From China to India, from Japan to Germany, nations everywhere are racing to develop new ways to produce and use energy,’’ he said. “The nation that wins this competition will be the nation that leads the global economy. I am convinced of that. And I want America to be that nation. It’s that simple.’’

A number of clean energy advocates say the United States lacks a national policy to guarantee long-term financial incentives for companies to build renewable power. The Senate is attempting to pass such legislation before a December meeting of 190 countries in Copenhagen to hash out a treaty to lower emissions from power plants, vehicles, and factories.

Obama’s speech was received with enthusiasm by the crowd, which included executives from Massachusetts clean energy companies, local politicians, Patrick administration officials, and students and professors from MIT, who cheered when the institute was mentioned. A number of Massachusetts officials merited mention in the president’s speech, including Senator John F. Kerry and US Representative Edward J. Markey, whom Obama called leaders in the pursuit of clean energy.

The president also was in town to campaign for Governor Deval Patrick, whom he called “my great friend and a champion of science and technology.’’

Citing the forthcoming groundbreaking for the new Wind Technology Testing Center in Boston, which received $25 million in federal stimulus money, Obama said, “Governor Patrick’s leadership and vision made this happen. He was bragging about Massachusetts on the way over here - I told him, ‘You don’t have to be a booster. I already love this state.’ ’’

Obama said the benefits of the project would extend beyond the jobs created here, allowing “American businesses to develop more efficient and effective turbines, and to lead a market estimated at more than $2 trillion over the next two decades.’’

Clean energy has been a longstanding priority for Patrick, and many Massachusetts academic institutions and businesses are pursuing clean energy technologies, including MIT. MIT and the University of Massachusetts at Amherst are among the 46 Energy Frontier Research Centers established earlier this year with federal stimulus funding.

“MIT is the epicenter of the technological renewable revolution that will be deployed around the country and around the world in the years ahead,’’ Markey said in an interview before Obama’s speech. Markey, a Malden Democrat, is a cosponsor of a proposed bill to set emission standards to help combat global climate change. Kerry has cosponsored a similar bill with Senator Barbara Boxer of California that is before the Senate.

Markey credited Patrick with making so-called green issues a priority in Massachusetts.

Shortly after coming into office, Patrick signed on to the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a 10-state coalition to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from area power plants by making them pay for pollution they emit. Last year, Patrick signed five pieces of environmental legislation.

Today, the state is on track to have roughly 30 megawatts of wind generating capacity, or enough to power nearly 7,900 homes, and 40 megawatts of solar generating capacity, enough to power from 6,000 to 8,000 homes, installed by the end of Patrick’s term.

Globe staff writer Beth Daley contributed to this report. Erin Ailworth can be reached at eailworth@globe.com.