Ben Downing: Time To Double Down | WAMC

Ben Downing: Time To Double Down

Jan 16, 2020

In 2008, the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center (CEC) was created to help develop the solutions, markets and companies to help solve climate change. The hope was Mass would capture the economic benefits of reducing our impact on climate change. The CEC has done just that, supporting the growth of the clean energy industry to 111,836 jobs and helping Mass begin to meet its climate goals. Despite these successes, the future of the CEC is in question, while its mission is more important than ever. 

Thanks to a variety of factors beyond the CEC’s control, the agency’s budget has decreased from $74 million to $30 million and is forecasted to drop further. By comparison, CEC’s sister agency in NY has a budget of $406 million for similar work. For their part, Governor Baker’s administration appears content to allow the scope of the CEC’s work to decrease dramatically. If that is the outcome, it will be harder for Massachusetts to meet its climate goals and we will capture fewer of the economic benefits from doing so. It would be a failure of leadership and a missed opportunity

The potential withdrawal of CEC’s leadership is particularly ill timed in our current fight against climate change. According to the United Nations, the world has 11 years to prevent irreversible damage from climate change.  Massachusetts has been successful in starting to clean up the electric grid and promoting conservation and energy efficiency. But our work is far from done and challenges abound. Because of regulatory delay & uncertainty, 2019 saw the least amount of solar energy installed in MA since 2013, a 40% decline since 2017, resulting in a 30% reduction in the state’s solar workforce. The Trump administration has stymied game-changing potential growth of offshore wind. Governor Baker and his administration deserve credit for their leadership on the Transportation Climate Initiative, which aims to reduce transportation emissions, but the regime and its success is far from a foregone conclusion. To overcome these hurdles and make the most of current opportunities we need CEC’s support for new ideas and innovative solutions.

It is easy to be fatalistic on climate change. The track record of the Mass CEC gives us reason to be hopeful. Thanks to their leadership, the clean energy industry has grown by 86% over the last decade. That growth has helped Massachusetts be the most energy efficient state 8 years in a row. It helped take solar generation from 2 megawatts to 2,500 megawatts, providing clean energy and savings to every community. As much as the fight against climate change is a fight against fossil fuels, it’s also a fight against time. We cannot slow down. Massachusetts is right to question the future of the Mass CEC. The answer is to double down on a decade of success. Our today and tomorrow depends on it.

Ben Downing represented the westernmost district in the Massachusetts Senate from 2006 to 2016. He is currently a vice president at Nexamp, a Massachusetts-based solar energy company, and an adjunct faculty member at Tufts University.

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