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.

Tech Entrepreneurs to Beacon Hill: Clean Energy Means JOBS

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When executives from leading Massachusetts clean technology companies gathered on Beacon Hill March 13 for the New England Clean Energy Council’s (NECEC’s) inaugural Clean Energy Day, their message to legislators emphasized three key points: Jobs, Jobs and Jobs. The business leaders and entrepreneurs that make up NECEC—including companies like Aircuity, Nexamp, Boston Power, Konarka, Ambient and A123 Systems, among many others—are betting on Massachusetts as the place to capture the next big economic opportunity. To do that, they need business-friendly state leadership and strong clean energy policies.

Clean energy companies in Massachusetts already employ 64,000 people, and that number is growing. The industry added more than 4,000 jobs in 2010, a growth rate of almost 7 percent, and that rate will likely double in 2011. Whether providing holistic home energy services or pushing disruptive technologies for electric vehicle batteries, solar thermal, smart grid or wind, clean energy firms are growing and expanding in Massachusetts every day.

Need more convincing? Just ask the professional investment community. Massachusetts has attracted the second-largest concentration of clean energy venture capital in the country. These are not players driven by emotion – these are sophisticated financial analysts who are laser-focused on results. They’re betting big sums on Massachusetts companies because we offer smart business models paired with cutting-edge technology. This combination often results in job creation and raises the standard of living for the entire region.

To their credit, Massachusetts state officials have shown leadership in this area. Bipartisan passage of the Green Communities Act in 2008 positioned Massachusetts to improve our economy (and the environment) by increasing the use of energy efficiency and renewable energy. This has saved Massachusetts families and businesses billions of dollars, lowered electric bills in our state and spurred innovation and investment in new energy technologies. The resulting jobs have also been a boon for the state: Today the estimated median annual wage in Massachusetts’ clean economy is more than $1,000 higher than it is for all other jobs across the state.

Despite the huge opportunities in the clean energy economy, opponents remain. They will try to stave off clean energy development with unfounded claims about the Green Communities Act and related costs while ignoring the value of clean energy investment and its robust return. In a time when subsidies for fossil fuels are 10 times those for renewables, it's time to embrace the truth that savings from efficiency and renewables adoption far exceed the cost of business as usual. Are you bullish or bearish? Please weigh in.

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