State-led efforts seen as vital for clean energy
CARBONDALE — After Deval Patrick was elected governor of Massachusetts in 2006, his administration worked with the public and private sectors, nonprofits and others to get laws passed promoting green energy in the state.
“There was a desire to do something different on energy in Massachusetts,” Meg Lusardi, director of the state’s Green Communities Program, told an audience in Carbondale Wednesday.
The result was changes that have led to Massachusetts being considered a national leader in the field of energy efficiency and renewable energy, while producing double-digit annual growth in jobs in the clean-energy sector in recent years. The state now is home to 80,000 clean-energy jobs provided by more than 5,000 businesses.
How Colorado can do more, and is doing more, to achieve economic strength through energy efficiency and clean energy was the focus of Wednesday’s “Powering Up Colorado” forum.
Vastly increasing Colorado’s green-energy investment will help ensure a prosperous state over the long term, economist Skip Laitner said.
“The opportunity is hugely there. That’s the exciting part,” he said. “It has to happen. It’s what I call the economic imperative of energy efficiency.”
Laitner and other speakers Wednesday sought to dispel the notion that energy efficiency comes at a cost to the economy. Over the decades, he said, spikes in U.S. economic productivity have corresponded with spikes in efficiency improvements.
Investments to reduce Colorado’s total energy use by 30 percent by 2030 would result in 120,000 jobs directly related to those reductions or resulting from improved productivity and a more robust economy, he said.
Laitner said the United States currently is just 14 percent energy-efficient.
“In other words, we’re wasting 86 percent of all the energy we throw at the problem, constraining a more robust economy,” he said.
Colorado is more energy efficient than the nation as a whole as measured by the amount of energy needed to generate each dollar in the economy, but Massachusetts’ energy consumption based on that measure is about half the national average, he said.
This month, the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy ranked Massachusetts the most energy-efficient state for the third year in a row. Colorado ranked 16th. The scorecard assesses policies and programs applying to utilities, transportation, building energy codes and other areas.
Lusardi said a key component of Massachusetts’ success was passage of the Green Communities Act. More than 100 communities have received the Green Communities designation, from tiny towns to the city of Boston, after agreeing to provisions such as reducing energy use 20 percent over five years, buying only fuel-efficient vehicles and requiring minimum life cycles in new construction.
In return, they receive grants covering energy conservation, solar and other investments. Lusardi said energy efficiency is the top goal, before investments in supply, with programs such as streetlight replacement proving popular.
Lusardi said that while she would like it to be a little more flexible, the statutory approach in Massachusetts generally has worked well and carries greater promise of longevity.
“(Gubernatorial) administrations come and go but it takes real effort to change statute,” she said.
Locally driven efforts have helped lead the clean energy effort in Colorado. Among them is Garfield Clean Energy, an organizer of Wednesday’s forum. A collaboration of governments and other entities in Garfield County, it has helped residents, businesses and governments implement clean-energy measures that have produced $1.7 million in annual savings.
Statewide, Colorado has taken steps including imposing renewable requirements for utilities. But state Sen. Gail Schwartz, D-Snowmass Village, said Wednesday that while much of the focus has been on the 29 percent of energy consumed in the state for electricity generation, transportation accounts for 28 percent of consumption, and 43 percent pertains to buildings.
“Somehow heating and cooling doesn’t seem to register as we have these conversations,” she said.
Legislation passed this year is beginning to address the subject, she said. This includes creation of a mortgage program that provides for an interest rate buydown for purchases of energy-efficient homes, and another program providing loans for energy-efficient commercial properties.
State Rep. Diane Mitsch Bush, D-Steamboat Springs, said clean-energy projects are important to mountain communities because they have provided new work for a construction industry hard-hit by the recession.
“Energy efficiency equals money. Energy efficiency equals jobs. Energy efficiency equals savings,” she said.
Another Colorado measure passed this year will double, to 20 percent by 2020, the renewable energy standard for rural energy cooperatives. It has created fears about impacts on high-paying coal mining jobs, including in northwestern Colorado.
Mitsch Bush is a supporter of coal energy and backed a reduction in what had been a 25 percent renewable-energy standard in the bill. But she added that the bill was subject to a misinformation campaign about renewables being more expensive and costing jobs.
She also said that during the bill’s consideration, “When we looked at the jobs directly in energy efficiency, in renewables in our state, they are already slightly more than the number of coal mining jobs and they pay as well or better than coal mining jobs do. They also are flexible as to location.”
Tom Binet, business development officer with both the Colorado Energy Office and Colorado Office of Economic Development and International Trade, has been involved with an ongoing project to create a business plan for the state. Part of its effort is focused on all aspects of the energy industry.
When it comes to clean energy, the effort has produced recommendations such as establishing greater regulatory consistency between local jurisdictions, encouraging the real estate industry to highlight the value of energy-efficiency of improvements made by homeowners, and providing input to local governments drafting new building codes following fires and floods.
Eldon Krugman, executive director of the nonprofit Housing Resources of Western Colorado, based in Grand Junction, said he found Wednesday’s event to be helpful in terms of hearing what communities are doing regarding clean energy. He also learned his organization might be able to benefit from the new commercial property loan legislation.
He found interesting what he called the “progressive approach” being undertaken toward clean energy at the state level in Massachusetts.
“Having one central point of dollars and information dissemination is critical to a successful effort,” Krugman said.