In his first year in office, Gov. Deval Patrick placed a series of high-stakes bets on the state’s economic future, from encouraging the development of a renewable energy industry to making a pitch for three destination resort casinos.
While he’s taken a wait-and-see approach to the casinos after being shot down by lawmakers in 2008, Patrick is forging ahead on the green energy front, trumpeting successes as he heads into a tough election season.
At the same time, his administration is guarding against long-term criticism of Patrick’s support of projects like Cape Wind and the solar panel manufacturer Evergreen Solar — two of the state’s marquee renewable energy ventures.
Patrick’s interest in the companies doesn’t end just with the promise of desperately needed jobs. The administration hopes the drive for non-fossil fuels will help stabilize the region’s energy market over time, leading to an easing of electricity costs for consumers.
It’s a message Patrick’s Secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs Ian Bowles repeated in a letter to officials from Cape Wind and National Grid earlier this year.
Bowles said any contract negotiated between Cape Wind and National Grid for the distribution of energy produced by the 130-turbine Nantucket Sound wind farm would likely benefit from tax credits available under the federal stimulus program and the federal Department of Energy.
In return, Bowles said, any savings should be passed on to ratepayers.
“We would like to see the contract structured in such a way that all such tax incentives or other contingent benefits flow through directly to taxpayers in the form of lower electricity prices,” Bowles wrote.
Any public subsidies should benefit the public and not become “a windfall for Cape Wind or National Grid,” he added. He also said the power produced by Cape Wind should come in at a “substantial discount” compared to a proposed eight turbine Rhode Island project off the coast of Block Island.
Cape Wind spokesman Mark Rodgers declined to comment on the negotiations with National Grid for a long term power purchasing agreement. He said a 15-year contract is not something that would start immediately given that the project still awaits final federal approval.
But Rodgers said the wind project will be able to produce a constant source of energy free from the market fluctuations of other sources of energy including natural gas.
“We’re going to be offering a long term stable price,” Rodgers said. “It will give consumers the ability to get off that fossil fuel price roller coaster.”
Over time, Rodgers said renewable sources of energy such as Cape Wind will push down electricity prices across New England.
Bowles said there are other benefits to the state for hosting the nation’s “one and only offshore wind project that can be completed in the next five years.” The project would thrust Massachusetts to the forefront of the nation’s wind energy industry, he said.
Bowles is equally supportive of the state’s decision to invest $58 million in Marlborough-based Evergreen Solar Inc. The company has been repeatedly hailed by Patrick as a green jobs hero for its decision to bring hundreds of solar panel manufacturing jobs to Devens.
The company has more recently come under fire after announcing plans to shift some jobs to China after posting a $167 million loss last year. This month the company announced its CEO would be receiving a $479,991 bonus for 2009.
Company spokesman Chris Lawson declined further comment on the bonus, saying “it’s our policy not to comment on executive compensation.”
Bowles defended the company saying it has more than lived up to its promises to the state. He said the company pledged 350 jobs in Massachusetts and has already produced double that number at two facilities.
“Did we make a good deal? We made a great deal,” Bowles said.
Whether Patrick will be able to claim success on the gambling front is largely in the hands of lawmakers. House Speaker Robert DeLeo is promising to release a final House version of an expanded gaming bill before the House takes up its state budget proposal this spring.
DeLeo has already said he supports a mix of two casinos and some slot machines for the state’s race tracks. Patrick opposes the slots at race tracks proposal.