Posts Tagged ‘Jen Judson’

State House rally aims to restore library aid

Monday, December 7th, 2009

by Jen Judson

BOSTON — Protesting cuts in state funding, librarians from across the state converged on the State House yesterday to warn lawmakers that people are relying on free services offered by libraries more than ever.

Waving purple and green signs, some in Braille, reading, “Don’t close the books on libraries” an estimated 300 demonstrators chanted “Don’t rip off our kids,” and “Don’t close the books” in English and Spanish.

“Libraries, especially now, are important troves of information,” Richard Hoffman, chairman of PEN New England, an organization for published and aspiring writers, told the crowd.

Hoffman said research shows in times of recession people need libraries even more for career research, educational opportunities, legal and financial information, job hunting and, “for some, a safe warm place on a winter’s day.”

The Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners’ budget for the next fiscal year has been cut by 16 percent. Library advocates fear there will be more cuts down the road.

Susan McAlister, president of the Massachusetts Library Association, said on a typical day Massachusetts libraries provide 278 programs for children and adults, 148,000 items are circulated and 13,900 reference questions are answered. In addition, she said, libraries see 83,484 visitors each day, with 23,666 using public Internet computers.

Legislators say they love libraries, “but libraries cannot live on love alone,” McAlister said.

State Sen. Robert Hedlund, R-Plymouth, told the rally he wasn’t able to go directly from high school to college and relied heavily on his local public library as a “lifeline.” He said he became a “voracious reader” in his early 20s.

“It inspired me to go onto other things, take an interest in civic affairs, take an interest in government and it led me to the State House,” he said, “I see the importance of libraries.”

The governor’s cuts to library budgets “take away the opportunity for people to learn how to think,” state Rep. Angelo Scaccia, D-Readville, told the group.

“When they learn how to think, then they can go out and make millions of dollars in those private companies that we are funding up here,” said state Rep. Mark Falzone, D-Saugus, who has made library funding a top priority. He said that 118 House members signed letters to the House speaker and to Gov. Deval Patrick asking to restore library funding that was cut on July 16. He said the push to preserve libraries has received great bipartisan support.

“That’s a great first step but we aren’t going to stop there. We are going to keep fighting,” said Falzone. “This is crucial funding.”

Framingham Public Library director Mark Contois said in a phone interview that the governor’s cuts amounted to a 4 percent reduction for library aid. That would mean fewer books and videos on the library’s shelves, cuts in programming for adults and children and a possible reduction in hours.

“If there are additional reductions in state aid to public libraries directly, it’s just going to put more stress on a very tight municipal budget,”said Contois, whose librarian wife attended the Boston rally.

Contois said he is seeing more visitors to the library. Program attendance and circulation are “way up.”

“In economic tough times people turn to the library,” said Contois, but in these hard times “resources are shrinking.”

He said, “We will keep doing what we are doing as best we can and as long as we can.”

Could biotech save the state?

Saturday, November 28th, 2009

By Greg KwasnikJen Judson and Antoinette Pizzi

BOSTON – In 2008, the Massachusetts Legislature approved the Life Sciences Act, a 10-year, $1 billion initiative that promised to bring biotechnology companies and jobs to the state, building on an industry already at the nucleus of the state’s high-tech economy.

Facing competition from California, Pennsylvania and other states, the Legislature designed the act to make Massachusetts more attractive to companies and investors through tax incentives, loans and grants.

Supporters say the legislation was necessary to prevent biotechnology firms, some of Massachusetts’ most successful economic performers, from being lured away by states with more generous incentives.

“This is a proactive effort,” said Susan Windham-Bannister, president of the Massachusetts Life Science Center, the quasi-public agency that awards funding through the Life Science Act.

Efforts to grow and keep biotech firms has transcended political differences. In 2004, then-Gov. Mitt Romney tried to attract out-of-state biotech companies to Massachusetts. The state, which had already boasted 30,000 jobs in the biopharmaceutical industry, hoped to create 100,000 biotechnology jobs by 2010, according to an industry report.

In a 2007 Boston Globe editorial, Gov. Deval Patrick and Senate President Therese Murray said a Life Sciences Act would be essential to the Massachusetts economy.

“Every new job created in the life sciences results in two additional jobs in support services for suppliers, vendors and construction,” the two wrote. “What’s good for the life sciences and biotech is good for Massachusetts.”

The state is moving ahead despite the economy. Over the next three years, the University of Massachusetts Medical School in Worcester is scheduled to receive $90 million in capital funding for the construction of the Albert Sherman Center, a medical research facility.

Bristol-Meyers Squibb will open a $1 billion manufacturing plant in Devens in 2011, lured by $67 million in state incentives and $385 million in private investment dollars.

The new facility will create an estimated 600 jobs, according to Tim Sappington, executive director of the Leominster-based North Central Workforce Investment Board.

As of mid-November, the building appeared to be near completion, with a large stone company sign marking the roadside entrance.

“There was a tremendous amount of work done on the part of a lot of different state initiatives or state government agencies that provided support to get Bristol-Myers to locate here,” said Sappington.

But the economy has slowed some of the state’s ambitions. In 2009, the Life Sciences Center was supposed to receive $50 million to administer the initiatives of the Life Sciences Act. Instead it received $15 million from the Legislature, Bannister said. In 2010, the center will receive $10 million as a result of the recession.

Angus McQuilken, vice president for communications at the center, said it will still receive the $1 billion in funding over the course of 10 years but some years the center will receive more than other years based on what projects are in the works.

McQuilken said the center wants to fund “shovel-ready” programs, which are in the position to receive funding and put it to use right away. He estimated that through the funding allocated by the Legislature, 5,500 jobs could be created, many of them in the economy-sustaining building trades.

Other Life Sciences Act grants are expected to create jobs. They include:

$12.9 million in grants for a wastewater system facility to serve Framingham’s Technology Park, which will create 300 new manufacturing jobs at a new Genzyme plant.

$25 million in state grants and private matching funds to renovate the Loeb Lab at the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, creating 200 construction jobs and up to 50 permanent jobs.

$9.5 million grant to Tufts University’s Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine to construct the New England Regional Biosafety Laboratory in Grafton. The project is expected to create 56 full-time construction and 29 long-term jobs.

Despite the state’s investment, biotech companies are still seeing lowered expectations because of the recession.

“Our business has been somewhat flat over the past year to 15 months,” said John FitzPatrick, a sales representative for Groton Biosystems, a biotech company in Boxborough. “Particularly with the way the economy has been, companies are more reluctant to spend.”

Steve Poftak, research director at the Pioneer Institute, argued that the state does not have the expertise to identify which technologies to support.

“We really think the state should not be in the business of picking winners and losers in terms of industries,” said Poftak who worked in the Romney administration. “When I used to work for the state we would rely on outsiders’ financial forecasts and we would always say, ‘If I had the ability to financial forecast the stock market, I would be in a different job.”‘

But at New England Peptide in Gardner, Solimar Santiago is glad for the state’s investment in biotech. A Worcester Polytechnic Institute graduate who majored in chemical engineering, Santiago said he was able to get a job with New England Peptide after a three-month search.

Though Santiago said business has slowed recently, the 30-employee company is looking to hire three new workers. Peptides, which are composed of chains of amino acids, are used in a number of medical research applications.

“People are hiring,” said Solimar. “The fact that they’re hiring means it’s a good field to get into.”

(link to original article)

State working out bugs in renewable energy leadership

Friday, November 27th, 2009

By Greg KwasnikJen Judson and Antoinette Pizzi

BOSTON — In the darkening recession, Gov. Deval Patrick and the Legislature have dialed back funding for education, social services and local aid. But energy efficiency and renewable energy development – promised as a salvation for economic growth – have been spared.

“We are in very difficult times, as you know, but we cannot afford to slow down or think small, especially in the clean energy field,” Patrick told a conference of 400 energy entrepreneurs and investors in Boston earlier this month.

Over the last decade, Massachusetts has instituted dozens of tax incentives, loans and grant programs to encourage development of renewable energy. But in this withering financial climate, with Massachusetts facing a potential $600 million budget deficit, is the state’s investment still on track to reap a bright, green economy?

The Patrick administration has set a goal of making Massachusetts No. 1 in the nation in producing and consuming renewable energy. The Legislature is on board with the plan, yet there have been pitfalls with the ambitious program.

In 2008, the Legislature showed its commitment to renewable energy with a package of bills that promised jobs and a stronger state economy. The legislation carried a total price tag of $118 million in loans and grants over five years. Supporters said the bills would create an estimated 14,000 to 17,000 jobs.

But timing was not kind to the programs. Nick d’Arbeloff, president of the New England Clean Energy Council, said the estimates of jobs and revenues were made shortly before the credit market collapsed, leading to a drop in private investment in renewable energy.

“In 2008 the whole sector started to just explode in terms of investment and in 2009 there was a pullback,” d’Arbeloff said.

Money promised to some of the programs had to be trimmed. D’Arbeloff said that the Green Jobs Act, originally allocated $68 million, ended up receiving around $20 million.

“No secret here, the economy forced the Legislature to scale back on every allocation possible,” he said.

Now, looking to incentives to prod private investors back into action, the state has announced plans to foster three main categories of renewable energy: wind, solar and efficiency.

The promise

– Wind power: The state plans to make wind power a top priority by building wind generators on state property. The goal is to save the state budget nearly $342 million in energy costs annually, according to the state energy office.

Under the plan, small-scale wind turbines on state land would produce enough electricity to power the equivalent of 6,900 homes. Large-scale projects of 7.5 megawatts or greater would produce enough to power 194,615 homes. Whatever self-generated power the state does not use will be sold to the electrical grid.

– Solar power: The state launched its popular Commonwealth Solar Rebate program in January 2008. By last month, the program had awarded an average of nearly $43,000 in cash rebates to 1,018 commercial, residential and public solar construction projects. The $68 million program has since stopped taking applications because the state has already met its goal of creating 27 megawatts of solar energy by 2012.

– Energy efficiency: The state anticipates $6.5 billion in savings for electric and natural gas customers over the next three years through public utility energy efficiency programs. The programs would also create or save 4,000 jobs while increasing the gross state product by $2.4 billion, the energy office reported this month.

If successful, the state’s energy efficiency programs would lead the nation in energy efficiency. In 2009, the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy ranked Massachusetts second, behind California, for energy efficiency.

The reality

But there have been some short circuits in the state’s renewable energy plan.

Evergreen Solar, a photovoltaic company based in Marlborough, had been the state’s poster child for renewable energy. In 2008, the company received a $58.6 million state grant to build a solar panel manufacturing plant in Devens, creating 700 full-time and 300 temporary jobs, three times more than the 350 the company had originally announced.

But after the company posted a loss in 2009 it announced plans to begin manufacturing panels in China. The company has not announced if there will be any layoffs at its Devens plant, but it is unlikely the state will see any new jobs at the facility.

State Energy Secretary Ian Bowles maintains the state made a wise choice by supporting the company and contends the energy program remains a “real success story,” with a 15-fold increase in solar installations after four years.

“That creates a lot of jobs and diversifies our energy away from fossil fuels,” he said.

Neither the energy office nor the Clean Energy Council could give estimates for overall green job creation in the near future, but both expressed confidence that job growth will be seen in 2010.

Since the state started its Solar Rebate program, solar manufacturing jobs in the state have doubled, from 1,086 in 2007 to 2,075 in 2008, according to Lisa Capone, an energy office spokeswoman. The energy office expects the industry to add 960 employees this year.

But the Solar Rebate program, which ran through its $68 million of funding in less than a year, was “a victim of its own success,” said d’Arbeloff. “Ultimately to extend that to a long term of time would be too expensive to the state.”

Instead, the state will institute a solar credit market, guaranteeing solar power producers a set energy rate. D’Arbeloff said the program, which will begin in January, is a more logical, free-market mechanism than the Solar Rebate program.

The state still has a way to go in wind power. There are just three wind installations on state properties, including the Massachusetts Maritime Academy, Logan Airport and UMass-Lowell. The total electricity generated by these facilities amounts to 682 kilowatts, .07 percent of the 989 megawatts the state hopes to generate in the future.

Wind power is far from becoming an everyday reality, despite the state’s tax incentives. It would take 15 years for a small business owner who constructs a wind turbine to realize the $40,000 investment for a 10 kilowatt installation, according to the American Wind Energy Association.

With a rebate, savings could come sooner. The state’s rebate for a 10 kilowatt wind turbine runs about $7,800, according to a calculator on the state’s Commonwealth Wind Incentive Web site.

Even with incentives, questions remain about available funding for renewable energy projects in the current economic climate.

Meg McIsaac, senior commercial lending officer for TD Bank USA, which specializes in renewable energy lending, said investors and lenders are looking to support proven technologies like wind and solar before taking a risk on deepwater wind power, tidal power and other new energy sources.

“We tend to be backwards-looking thinkers, so if we can get our arms around something that has been up and running and there is a track record, we can understand that all day long,” McIsaac said.

Despite these uncertainties the Patrick administration has urged investors to remain forward-thinking. Patrick even uses the recession to argue that more investment is needed to ensure that Massachusetts does not lose clean energy jobs to other states.

“We can invent our own clean energy future and have the whole world as our customer,” Patrick said. “That is where I want Massachusetts to be.”

(link to original article)