Romney Helped Spark Green-Energy Boom

June 11, 2012 by  
Filed under Green Energy News

Mitt Romney’s criticism of President
Barack Obama for promoting green-energy subsidies may keep the
former Massachusetts governor from boasting about his own
contribution to his state’s expanding clean-energy industry.

As a Republican presidential candidate, Romney has chided
Obama for doling out billions of dollars to companies such as
failed Solyndra LLC, saying the president is in an “imaginary
world” where renewable energy fuels the economy, not
traditional sources such as oil, natural gas and coal.

As governor, Romney’s administration employed the same
incentives used by Obama. He promoted a green-energy fund backed
by the state as a “major economic springboard,” and oversaw an
increase in support for renewable and energy-efficiency
projects. Like Solyndra, some of the companies funded by the
state have failed.

“Massachusetts is a living, breathing microcosm as to why
clean energy makes sense,” Rob Pratt, who directed the state’s
green-energy effort for three years under Romney, said in an
interview. “This acceleration started under Romney.”

A 2011 report found more than 64,000 clean-energy jobs in
Massachusetts, up from a few thousand at the beginning of
Romney’s four-year term, Pratt said. Romney left office in 2007.

The American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy in
Washington gave Massachusetts its top rating in 2011, and the
Washington-based nonprofit Solar Foundation said last year
Massachusetts ranked 10th in the U.S. for solar-energy jobs.

Gained Steam

While much of the expansion occurred under Governor Deval Patrick, the Democrat who succeeded Romney, clean-energy
advocates said efforts to promote wind, solar and building-
efficiency programs through a renewable-energy trust gained
steam during Romney’s administration.

“He’s decided to jump into the ‘drill, baby, drill’
camp,” said Larry Chretien, executive director for the Mass
Energy Consumers Alliance, a Boston-based nonprofit group that
advocates for affordable energy. On clean energy projects,
Romney put the state in a “good position to build on,”
Chretien said.

“Governor Romney has never advocated for the government
playing the role of venture capitalist,” Ryan Williams, a
Romney campaign spokesman, said in an e-mailed statement.
“In Massachusetts, he asked independent private managers to
invest the funds that the state had already committed to green-
energy projects, and he vetoed a proposal for additional
spending.”

Not all of Massachusetts’ bets paid off. Evergreen Solar
Inc. (ESLRQ) (ESLRQ)
filed for bankruptcy in August after getting more than $50
million in aid from the Deval administration.

Konarka, Solyndra

Konarka Technologies Inc. in Lowell shut its doors June 1
after receiving at least $6.5 million in state aid. The company
collapsed one day after Romney visited Solyndra’s Fremont,
California, headquarters, saying the shuttered factory
symbolized Obama’s failed efforts to revive the economy.

Solyndra had won a $535 million U.S. loan guarantee two
years before it collapsed.

Shortly after taking state office in 2003, Romney sought to
promote his own administration’s efforts to create jobs through
alternative sources of power.

After a January 2003 visit to Konarka, a statement from the
governor’s office said, “Romney Ties Job Growth to Cleaner
Environment.”

He touted $24 million to support clean-energy companies in
the state, including a $1.5 million loan to Konarka, and grants
and loans to Ameresco Inc. (AMRC) (AMRC), which won state support for
landfill-gas facility in Chicopee, about 90 miles west of
Boston, and Nuvera Fuel Cells Inc.

Green Fund

The effort included $15 million for the Massachusetts Green
Energy Fund LP, a venture-capital firm that helped finance 12
companies, three of which, including Konarka, are closed.

“It’s been pretty much like any other venture fund these
days, we have some successes and we’ve had some losses,” said
William Osborn, a founding partner at the fund, in an interview.

In some ways, Romney was following a course already set.
The state legislature in 1997 created the renewable-energy trust
fund as part of the effort to deregulate electricity generation.

A surcharge on consumer electricity bills generated more
than $160 million for the fund by the time Romney took office in
2003. The money was targeted for clean-energy projects.

Pratt, who was hired six months before Romney became
governor, said the trust’s spending picked up during his
administration.

According to an April 13, 2007, state audit, the
Massachusetts Technology Collaborative, which oversaw the fund,
spent about $15.3 million on renewable-energy projects in fiscal
2005 and $21.4 million in fiscal 2006.

Loan Helped

Nuvera, the fuel-cell company, received a $5.75 million
loan in 2006 to help move from a research facility in Cambridge
it had outgrown and into a factory in Billerica, about 22 miles
northwest of Boston, said Gus Block, director of marketing.

The loan helped the company, whose products are used in
fork-lift trucks and automobiles, remain in the state, Block
said.

At the time, the company had 100 employees, and now it now
has 140, he said. The loan was repaid in three years, he said.

The trust also supported green-school construction, aided
low-income residents conserve energy, and helped finance large-
scale renewable energy projects, according a document showing
the program’s history.

The Department of Energy called the Massachusetts Green
Energy Power Partnership the largest such initiative in the U.S.
when it was created in 2003.

Benign Role

Pratt, who backs Obama’s re-election, reported to the
Massachusetts Technology Collaborative’s 23-member board. As
governor, Romney didn’t have an oversight role with the fund,
his campaign said.

Pratt, now chief executive officer of GreenerU Inc. in
Waltham, which helps colleges and universities reduce energy
costs, said Romney administration officials on the board didn’t
challenge his proposals.

Romney was criticized by environmental groups for taking
$17 million from the renewable-energy trust and using it to cut
the deficit and for not joining a regional cap-and-trade program
designed to cut greenhouse-gas emissions.

He also was skeptical about the government as a venture
capitalist, saying a different emerging-technology fund
supported by a state lawmaker was “not a model I would
subscribe to,” the Boston Globe reported in an April 25, 2003,
article.

As a presidential candidate, Romney has criticized Obama’s
support for clean-energy programs.

‘Imaginary World’

“In place of real energy, Obama has focused on an
imaginary world where government-subsidized windmills and solar
panels could power the economy,” Romney said in a March 5
editorial in the Columbus Dispatch in Ohio.

The candidate’s website says “’green’ technologies are
typically far too expensive to compete in the marketplace.”

The government can support clean-energy development by
investing in basic research, rather than picking individual
companies to back, according to the campaign.

Obama, meanwhile, has challenged Romney’s economic record
as governor, saying the state was 47th in job creation.

Pratt said Romney was distancing himself from his own green
energy record to draw the contrast with Obama.

“The only reason why you would walk away from it is
because there is a convenient political divide that could get
created here,” Pratt said.

To contact the reporter on this story:
Jim Snyder in Washington at
jsnyder24@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story:
Jon Morgan at
jmorgan97@bloomberg.net

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