Should Big Bird Be Flying North? How Renewable Energy Would Function in a Romney Presidency

Photo EvelynGiggles, Flickr

Photo EvelynGiggles, Flickr

While Big Bird’s fate – along with that of PBS – has been much discussed in the wake of last week’s presidential debate, a Romney presidency promises many other programs will find their way to the chopping block. One likely victim is the emerging renewable energy sector.
As he promises a path to energy independence that relies on increased gas and oil exploration, former Governor Romney will take an axe to the estimated $90 billion in grants, incentives, etc. designed to bolster the nascent renewables sector. Romney says the country can no longer afford that outlay. Whether or not handouts given to the oil and gas industries for almost 100 years will meet the same fate as clean technology in the Romney regime is still unclear. What is clear now, however, is that Romney’s strong performance (or Obama’s listless effort) has the renewables sector contemplating a new world order in 2013 and beyond.

Are we facing the ‘end of days’ for clean energy after the halcyon years of the Obama administration? Hardly: in just a short few years, we now have rising stars and established players in biogas (see Harvest Power), wind (see Cape Wind), solar (see Next Step Living), energy efficiency (see FirstFuel), electricity storage (see Ambri) electric vehicles (see GM) on so on. There will be casualties undoubtedly as government support is eliminated under Romney’s stewardship. But will we face a wasteland? Is there a path forward in a world where the deck is stacked for entrenched forces? The answer, of course, remains to be seen: clearly, the private sector needs to play a larger role in terms of its investment in clean energy research and market development. Active involvement in lobbying is needed to change the calculus so that externalities – the well-documented impact on health and the environment among others – are included in the costs of carbon-based energy. Easier said than done, I know, but such is the nature of a dynamic market system that even Romney acknowledges needs regulations, albeit far less than the current administration advocates.

We can also take solace in the fact that the prices of fundamental renewable technologies are dropping, a key to survival should all clean tech government funding be dropped. A 2012 white paper by McKinsey & Company highlighted the increasingly competitive solar industry, where the price of solar-PV modules has dropped from $4 per watt in 2008 to less than $1 today.

The report went on to read: “Prices paid for solar are likely to continue to fall, but sales should rise as solar power becomes economically viable for an increasing number of customers. Additionally, because prices for solar-based power are likely to be set by prices for fossil fuels instead of subsidies (which have been falling annually), margins for leading solar players should increase as their costs continue to decline.”

Out of this potential solar wasteland, well-managed companies like GT Advanced Technologies with strong balance sheets are continuously adopting new models and technologies to seize opportunities in solar and other emerging market sectors.

Whatever the future holds in terms of presidential politics, we know the world is not standing still. I’m an optimist: where there is a need, solutions built on innovation, quality and value will prevail. I also believe common sense will rise to the top of the discussion. PBS, the venerable home of Big Bird, receives only $1.35 per person each year in federal funding. We will find a way in our vast education budget to keep our best early childhood education resource, an eight foot tall yellow bird, in homes every day. Likewise, I believe the benefits of renewables – cleaner, healthier and safer (think national security) are abundantly clear: we just need to keep driving those points home to our fellow citizens. Once the overall population understands the necessity of clean energy, the person who sits in our county’s highest office is bound to follow, regardless of his party affiliation.

Follow Phil Greenough on twitter @philgreenough

Biogas Tax Credit: Capitol Hill Has Not Completely Forgotten Renewable Energy

Photo-Matt-Churchill-Flickr

Photo-Matt-Churchill-Flickr

We don’t always dip our toe into the stormy waters of legislative advocacy, but when we do we usually focus our attention on the acute need to expand investment and production tax credits to biogas to ensure its parity with other renewable energy sources.

Legislation introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives July 31 brought the clean tech industry one step closer to a key milestone: the first-ever investment tax credit (ITC) for biogas production.

H.R. 6212 – introduced by U.S. Representatives Ron Kind (D-WI) and John Lewis (D-GA) –  addresses an acute need for the nascent biogas industry: expanding investment and production tax credits to biogas. This first-ever ITC for biogas will go a long way to ensuring its parity with other renewable energy sources.

As members of the House Ways and Means Committee – where all U.S. tax law originates – Reps. Kind and Lewis have crafted legislation that seeks to amend the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 to provide a 30% ITC for qualifying biogas technologies. This continues previous groundwork on the subject laid out by U.S. Senator Ben Nelson (D-NE) and Rep. Brian Higgins (D-NY), who previously sponsored production tax credits for biogas.

This legislation still has a ways to go, of course, as it must pass through possible hearings and votes at both the subcommittee and full committee levels. From there it would likely need to get attached (stand-along advancement is unlikely for this bill) to a larger legislative vehicle for ultimate House passage. Regardless of the ultimate outcome, this legislation has several key components, including its recognition of biogas not just as a fuel to generate renewable electricity but also as renewable substitute for natural gas in vehicles, industry and homes. The bill itself embraces a wide range of biogas technologies, including anaerobic digesters and other biological, chemical, thermal, or mechanical processes which produce biogas with a minimum 52% methane content.

Now that’s cooking with gas!

Jay Staunton is vice president, account services at Greenough.

Governor’s Life Sciences Focus Will Benefit the Bay State

Governor Deval Patrick has had a few solid wins of late. At the risk of sounding partisan, the Governor’s varying initiatives to create new jobs is good news for all Massachusetts residents.
Whether he’s rallying the clean/green sector through the Green Communities Act, encouraging the growth of the Bay State robotics industry or pushing big data as the next Massachusetts IT sector, his various initiatives to help the local economy recover are encouraging.

Last week the Governor attended the grand opening of a new Thermo Fisher Scientific Center for Excellence in Tewksbury. The facility promises to add another 100 jobs in research, development and manufacturing over the next five years. The Tewksbury ribbon-cutting ceremony marks another event in a series of announcements preceding this week’s BIO International Convention at the Boston Convention & Exhibition Center.

Back in 2008, the Governor inked a 10-year, $1 billion investment package designed to spur research, investment, innovation and commercialization in the Bay State’s life sciences industry. Apparently it’s working: The Massachusetts Biotechnology Council reports that R&D jobs in Massachusetts increased from 46,380 in 2008 to 48,647 in 2010. The biopharma sector has seen more than 52 percent job growth since 2001, and statewide more than 80,000 employees currently work in life sciences or related industries.

Many experts believe that number will increase as more companies—especially European-based biotechnology and life science players–set up local operations in Massachusetts. In fact, “at least 15 companies from Europe have set up shop or expanded operations in the Bay State over the past four years,” according to a recent article in the Boston Globe.

No matter how you cut it, this is great news for Bay State businesses, consumers and job seekers. Keep up the great work, Governor.

Barbara Call is director of content at Greenough.

Cultivate the Next Generation of Clean Energy Futurists with Knowledge

The Massachusetts energy economy could be in good shape for the future if our aspiring engineers and technologists are getting a head start during field trips such as this one:
Earlier this month a class of 5th graders from Shady Hill School visited New England’s largest privately-owned solar energy park. Although the Westford, Mass.-based facility is still under construction, it’s a good example of how Bay State companies, including Cathartes Private Investments, Nexamp, Inc. and National Grid, are not only banding together to develop real business solutions but also working to educate the next generation (as well as budding engineers, designers and scientists).

Field trips help reinforce knowledge in a practical, hands-on way, and I encourage all companies playing in the renewable energy industry to get involved. Does your company have a facility that demonstrates how your technology works and/or how it’s used to solve real life problems? I encourage you to reach out to your local school district (or those of surrounding towns) and volunteer your location as a “field-trip worthy” destination. Most kids love the outdoors, and fun ideas about sunshine (1336 Technologies, Applied Materials, Veeco Instruments), wind (Mass Megawatts Wind Power, Cape Wind) and even biogas/compost (Harvest Power) are relatively easy to bring to life.

You can also use kits and toys to pique interest and develop knowledge. The Boston Museum of Science’s gift shop, for instance, includes such products as Venture View’s renewable energy-themed kit (it allows kids to build six different solar-powered vehicles, and the solar panel in each one charges a rechargeable battery) and the National Geographic’s Sustainable Earth Lab, an environmental science kit for kids ages 8+.

Why not contact the Museum of Science (MOS) and design a kit or toy in collaboration? Or work hand-in-hand with the MOS to sponsor an exhibit or provide the props for hands-on demonstrations? (FYI, the MOS is usually filled with visiting school kids during the work week.)

My point is two-fold: Massachusetts renewable energy companies need to follow the lead of companies like Nexamp and begin serving as destinations for elementary and middle school field trips. At the same time, why not design a toy or kit in collaboration with the MOS, an organization such as the National Geographic Society or a forward-thinking toy manufacturer?

Renewable energy is here to stay, and exposing our kids to the growing industry is critical—especially in Massachusetts, where great ideas are hatching (and growing) every day.  Knowledge is power, and remember you may be planting seeds for our next generation of green energy and clean tech futurists.

Barbara Call is director of content for Greenough.

Greenough Alumni Update: Susan Willson

For many people, a first job out of college is an introduction to the professional world, a learning experience that allows a young person to get his sea legs before starting down a career path. For Susan Willson, who joined Greenough in 2004, her first job proved to be much, much more.
Susan interned at Greenough’s San Francisco office during her senior year Stanford University, then joined the company full-time after graduating. She worked for a true mentor in Helena Kimball, and earned immediate client and media exposure due to her excellent skillset and Greenough’s boutique structure.

“I had the rare and rewarding experience of getting to make an impact very early in my career,” said Susan. “I wasn’t hidden from clients at Greenough. Far from it – I had the opportunity to work on client-facing items and even new business opportunities almost from day one.”

When Greenough’s San Francisco office closed, Susan joined the rest of the team in Boston. There she became a day-to-day contact for multiple clients. Under the mentorship of Helena, as well as Phil Greenough, Stacey Mann and many others, Susan learned to become a subject matter expert, manage account demands and hold her own by providing clients with a strategic advice.

“The level of responsibility I received was tremendous,” said Susan. “I distinctly remember going on my first new business pitch only a few months into the job. It was terrifying, but also one of the most valuable work experiences I’ve ever had. It was especially gratifying when we ended up winning the business!”

After five years with Greenough, Susan left to become a corporate relations manager for Genentech, a biotechnology company in San Francisco. She says one of the most valuable skills she learned at Greenough was how to acquire a high level of expertise about any industry in a short period of time. Susan leveraged this Greenough-honed ability to research and process information when she earned a job in biotechnology, an industry in which she had little experience but a great deal of interest.

“Greenough taught me how to develop a knowledge base so strong that client experts would ask me if they had forgotten to mention anything during a media interview,” said Susan. “That has come in handy many times in my professional life, not least when I had to go up against people with years of biotech experience as I was interviewing for my Genentech position.”

In her role at Genentech, Susan manages external communications for several bio-oncology medicines and helps inform the way the company’s story is told, including creating appealing, media-friendly narratives using all the information at her disposal, from clinical trial statistics to real-life patient experiences.

Susan found Greenough’s investment in cultivating her strengths and recognizing her successes made the company a rewarding place to work, but she also says that Greenough’s most valuable asset was its people. “This is a place with a committed focus on mentoring,” she said, “and on making employees take ownership of clients regardless of their position in the company.”

Jake Navarro is a senior consultant at Greenough.

Mass. Senate Passes Key Upgrades to Green Communities Act

On April 5 the Massachusetts State Senate unanimously passed key energy legislation that advances the state’s efforts to lead the nation in the clean energy sector, as detailed by Janet Gail Besser’s blog for the New England Clean Energy Council.
I agree with Besser’s assertions that by acting overwhelmingly on S2214, An Act Relative to Competitively Priced Electricity in the Commonwealth, Bay State legislators have demonstrated their shared belief that the innovation economy is a critical tool for the region’s economic development and for the state’s job-creation efforts.

Passage by the Senate sends the bill to the State House of Representatives, where members will likely take up legislative debate in the coming weeks.

S2214 strengthens important tenets of the landmark Green Communities Act (GCA), which Governor Patrick signed into law in 2008 as nation-leading energy efficiency and clean technology legislation.

To date the GCA has provided hundreds of millions of dollars of net benefits to electric and gas ratepayers in Massachusetts, primarily through smart investments in energy efficiency and renewable energy. These investments have helped reduce energy waste and have lowered reliance on imported fossil fuels while promoting clean technology jobs.

Among the key provisions outlined in Besser’s blog, S2214 achieves the following:

  • Preserves a framework for Massachusetts to enhance its nation-leading energy efficiency policy;
  • Expands net metering opportunities, providing energy users with an incentive to install renewable generation and the ability to save on their energy costs;
  • Opens net metering to anaerobic digestion, a renewable technology that reduces organic waste going to landfills, provides local economic development and reduces greenhouse gases;
  • Extends and expands long-term contracting for renewable energy, reducing financing costs to developers and thereby reducing costs to energy customers; and
  • Resolves property tax issues for solar projects, facilitating residential, commercial and industrial deployment of a technology whose costs are coming down.

I believe strongly that the Senate’s passage of S2214 is an important next step for our state. Do you agree?

Jay Staunton is Vice President, Account Services, at Greenough.