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Patrick to press for clean energy

Envisions Mass. taking lead role

Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Stephanie Ebbert
Globe Staff / May 1, 2008

Governor Deval Patrick will call on business leaders today 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, according to administration officials briefed on the speech.

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.

In a speech before the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce this morning, Patrick will also outline 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.

The speech, which the governor was still working on yesterday, underscores how seriously Patrick is looking at clean energy to advance his economic hopes for the Commonwealth. 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.

One administration official told the Globe that the governor will make 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.

"In light of all that, we have really an economic imperative to take action to arm ourselves for rising fuel prices, but we also have an economic opportunity in the rising clean energy sector," said one senior administration official. "We're saying clean energy should take its place in the top echelon of economic priorities for the Commonwealth."

Patrick, whose legislative proposals have often run into roadblocks in the House, also plans to highlight 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 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, 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 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 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 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."

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