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Looking Back at SSTI's 9th Annual Conference Alternative Energy and TBED: A Powerful Opportunity

December 05, 2005

In another wing of the InterContinental Buckhead Atlanta, site of SSTI's 2005 conference, participants shared what their states and regions are doing in the area of encouraging the development and deployment of alternative energy. Lee Cheatham, executive director of the Washington Technology Center, and Karl Jessen, program director of industry support under the Massachusetts Renewable Energy Trust (RET), led the session.

Cheatham opened his presentation, highlighting the market potential for alternative energy. Worldwide energy use is estimated at 382 quadrillion British thermal units (BTU), Cheatham said. Between 1950 and 2004, energy use in the U.S. rose from 34.62 quadrillion BTU to 99.7 quadrillion BTU.

Historically, Cheatham said, the subject of energy use has been a business and policy matter. However, increased commercial and residential applications, as well as industrial and transportation uses, have resulted in a shift from business and policy to energy as an economic development driver, he said. Opportunities exist with renewable solar, wind, geothermal, fuel cell and ocean wave/tidal or other sources, and enabling technologies.

Jessen offered a picture of the efforts being undertaken by RET, a division of the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative, to promote renewable energy development. RET oversees four program areas - clean energy, industry support, green buildings and infrastructure, and policy interactions with stakeholders - and is funded by a system benefits charge as part of 1998 electricity restructuring. The division's budget is $25 million annually, Jessen said.

As of December 2004, RET investments in more than 350 projects serving Massachusetts totalled more than $119 million, Jessen remarked. The division was supporting approximately 226.52 MW of new renewables, with seven projects in the planning stages expected to result in another 630 MW, he said. Forty-seven green buildings and feasibility studies for 93 others also were funded by that time.

The Industry Support Program for which Jessen is responsible has made more than $10 million in direct investments. As of the SSTI conference, the program was helping to support more than 550 jobs, according to Jessen. Through the $15 million Green Energy Fund, which invests equity venture capital in Massachusetts-based renewable energy companies, the program has reviewed more than 60 applications since June 2004 and made investments of up to $500,000.

Is there an emerging clean energy cluster? Jessen said one may already be in place in Massachusetts.

Based on University of Massachusetts research, the state employed 10,000 workers between energy efficiency and renewable energy fields in 2002-2003, Jessen observed. In the U.S., clean energy investment is projected to grow from $16.1 billion in 2004 to $102.4 billion in 2014, according to other data. The subject deserves closer attention, however, due to the difficulty in discerning clean energy jobs through industry codes, Jessen added.

The Friday morning session did not go without comment on other efforts to harness renewable energies. The Northwest Energy Technology Collaborative, which serves to accelerate growth in the Pacific Northwest, has set a target of 20,000 jobs by 2020, Cheatham noted. Its focus is on collaborative research, commercialization and demonstrations, and regional branding and promotion.

Participants from at least seven other states who were in attendance - Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Ohio, South Carolina, South Dakota and Vermont - also cited efforts underway in their states. They ranged from South Dakota's success in producing biodiesel from soybeans to Michigan's $30 million NextEnergy Initiative.