June 13, 2012 | last updated June 14, 2012 10:44 am

Energy Chief: State Must Stay Involved In Renewable Energy

Government must continue to be involved in the renewable energy market to help nudge the private sector toward using it more broadly and lessen dependence on fossil fuels, the head of the Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities (DPU) said this morning.

Ann G. Berwick, the chair of the DPU, touted the Patrick administration's investments in renewable energy sources – especially solar – at this morning's Massachusetts Solar Summit in Marlborough, hosted by the Worcester Business Journal. She said that when Gov. Deval Patrick took office in 2007, the state had only six megawatts of solar-generated power. Today, that has risen to 115 megawatts.

"We need to continue to expand" the commonwealth's tools and its leadership in clean energy, she told the gathering of about 225 at the Best Western Royal Plaza. That commitment should continue, she added, even though there may be a risk of failure among some of the firms that get into the market. In fact, she noted, venture capitalists expect at least one-third of the companies they support to fail, which underscores a need for government to step in and help boost the energy-generating capacity of renewable sources.

To emphasize the need for more renewable energy to improve public health, Berwick cited a 2011 report by the federal government and the Brookings Institution that said power generation from non-climate-related sources, such as fossil fuels, caused nearly $63 billion in damages to human health, agriculture and other economic sectors in 2005. The federal government, she said, has begun to see that. Until 2009, she said, citing statistics, fossil fuels received more federal support than did renewables. From 2007 to 2009, federal tax expenditures for fossil fuels shrunk from $7.42 billion to $2.62 billion.

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