Science, Tech & Environment

Clean energy sector surging in Massachusetts

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Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick tours a solar panel installation. (Photo courtesy of the Massachusetts governor's office.)

President Barack Obama’s call for creating new jobs through renewable energy development is a reality in Massachusetts.

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The number of green energy jobs in the Bay State has grown by more than 11 percent.

"We have doubled our use of renewable energy, and thousands of Americans have jobs today building wind turbines and long-lasting batteries," Obama said.

Obama might have had Massachusetts in mind, specifically when he made those comments. It's leading the pack in generating green jobs.

Alicia Barton McDevitt, the CEO of the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center, said the growth rate is phenomenal.

"It is because we have come together through the state government, working with business partners, working with academic institutions, working with environmental advocates," she said, "to develop programs and policies that work that make business predictable; that allow businesses to grow and get a foothold in the market and then expand here in Massachusetts."

Most of the businesses adding jobs are small. The vast majority of the 5,000 businesses in the clean energy economy in Massachusetts are small businesses — with fewer than 10 employees.

"We are growing these businesses from the ground up — from small operations and startups to hopefully larger companies that generate additional jobs as they grow," McDevitt said.

Clean energy jobs, she adds, come in a variety of field and kinds.

"That would of course include things like wind and solar and those types of clean energies," she said. "The largest sector of clean energy jobs, actually, in Massachusetts is around clean energy measures around the energy efficiencies measures that are installed in homes and businesses."

Some of the jobs — a growing portion — are even in manufacturing. Massachusetts has seen a more than 30 percent increase in clean energy manufacturing jobs.

"We saw a significant increase in manufacturing and assembly jobs, and that is something that we’re very proud of, particularly at a time when the traditional economic trends are trending the other way," McDevitt said. "But that’s because we’ve helped companies grow and locate here."

McDevitt said the federal stimulus program was a boon to her state's efforts to develop these clean energy jobs.

"There were many dollars put in place to directly incentivize, for example, renewable energies and energy efficiencies at municipal buildings - for example, local wastewater and drinking water treatment plants," she said.

All of this clean energy is paying off with a decrease in Massachusetts' carbon footprint. Some of the decline can be attributed to broader trends, like the slowing economy and the movement from coal power plants to ones fired by natural gas.

But that's just part of the story, McDevitt says.

"Massachusetts this year was ranked number one in the country by the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy," she said. "That’s the first time that Massachusetts has claimed that top spot from California, so we’re very proud of that. We’ve also seen solar grow a tremendous amount in recent years - to over 146 megawatts of installed capacity in the state."

But whether Massachusetts' growth continues is very much unknown. For example, Mitt Romney, the GOP presidential nominee, has suggested terminating tax credits for wind energy production.

"That makes it difficult for businesses that are trying to expand and plan to know what incentives will be available and how to price their products," McDevitt said. "Similarly, there are uncertainties in the marketplace around the prices of other sources of energy."

But at least for the next year, things still look good. McDevitt says Massachusetts clean energy companies are projecting increases of 12.4 percent.

"That would be a significant new expansion, and again I think far out-paces any other sector of the economy and predictions for growth in other areas," she said.