CIERP Header Image

A state’s progressive energy policy: initiative, innovation and economic development

April 21, 2012

Thetec logo absence of a federal approach to critical energy issues means that states have the imperative to take action on their own, keeping in mind that economic development is a key metric of a successful energy policy and that spurring innovation is part of the answer. 

Dr. Barbara Kates-Garnick, Massachusetts Undersecretary for Energy, is not shy about expressing her state’s determination to be a leader in progressive energy policy. During the closing keynote address of the seventh annual Tufts Energy Conference, co-sponsored by CIERP, she spoke about the policy pursued by the Commonwealth to try to satisfy growing energy needs, create green jobs, and position Massachusetts as a global energy innovation leader. 

The Tufts campus was a familiar environment for Dr. Kates-Garnick. She received her Ph.D. from The Fletcher School, where “her interest in energy policy first sparked, thanks to the coursework and the professors.” 

According to Dr. Kates-Garnick, a state-level progressive energy policy comes down to three main pillars. First, states must “take control of their own energy destinies” in the absence of a federal policy on carbon pricing. Governor Deval Patrick has spearheaded a commitment to develop green energy jobs in the state, and the Green Communities Act prioritized energy efficiency and put energy decision-making in the hands of cities.

Second, a state has to integrate environmental and energy policies. Massachusetts was the first in the country to combine the two departments at the state government level, bringing about more than just a bureaucratic realignment, but also integrated, holistic policies. “We emphasized energy efficiency as the first step in this realignment,” explained Dr. Kates-Garnick. As a result, Massachusetts has now invested more per capita on energy efficiency than any other state in the nation.

The third element of the Commonwealth’s progressive energy policy is the focus on the growth of the green economy, mainly through innovation and entrepreneurship. Dr. Kates-Garnick referred to the exceptional intellectual and technological capital in Massachusetts and to the fact that the state is home to the first wind blade-testing center in the United States, a demonstration of the state’s commitment to “participate in all parts of the supply chain.”

The focus on the green economy will also lead to economic development, one that Massachusetts has already witnessed. Demonstrating the economic benefits of a progressive energy policy, Dr. Kates-Garnick mentioned the 64,000 clean energy workers currently employed in the state. Officials are exploring the possibility of a wind facility port in New Bedford, which would bring much-needed jobs to economically depressed communities.  

Dr. Kates-Garnick’s professional experience has spanned public and private arenas in the energy, regulatory and public policy sectors. Most recently, she advised the Polytechnic Institute of New York University on issues related to urban systems, clean technology, energy policy and entrepreneurship.

During her speech, the keynote speaker also looked ahead. The major challenges Massachusetts will face in the coming years include an aging infrastructure, the lack of indigenous resources and finding the best way to invest in R&D and energy entrepreneurship without wasting taxpayer money. The state government plans to “look to the future” and focus on “climate change, renewable sources and innovation,” taking the lack of natural resources as an opportunity to invest in the intellectual and technological capital present in the state.

“We need to recognize that innovation means job development,” she added. 

Following up on this argument, a Tufts alumnus who is starting a solar panel installation company asked the Undersecretary of Energy whether the state wanted to push for green jobs on the manufacturing or installation end of the spectrum. 

“It’s a double-edged sword,” answered the Fletcher alumna, as the state has to recognize other countries’ comparative advantage while also trying to maintain and promote green jobs at home. “Ultimately, we want to make sure that the brains of the companies are here and that the intellectual R&D happens in Massachusetts.” 

“That’s what gives us confidence.”

-Article by Elia Boggia, MALD candidate F13