Mitt Romney has criticized President Obama for his administration’s role in funding Solyndra, the California solar manufacturer that has filed for bankruptcy, but as Governor, Romney awarded subsidies to several Massachusetts clean energy companies, according to an article in Politico.
During Romney’s tenure as Governor, several Mass. companies including Konarka and now-bankrupt Evergreen Solar received money from the state. Romney also created the Green Energy Fund, a venture capital investment arm of the Massachusetts Renewable Energy Trust, which was seeded with $15 million from the Trust’s existing resources to invest in clean energy companies.
William Osborn, who managed the Green Energy Fund, told Politico that “the jury is still out” on its success, but it’s worth stepping back and remembering that the state is widely cited as a leader in clean energy, and the sector has seen impressive growth. For the sake of full disclosure, I previously worked for the New England Clean Energy Council, but I think the evidence in this case speaks for itself.
Massachusetts has scored highly in independent state rankings of clean energy leadership, and the Brookings Institution recently profiled the Mass. Clean Energy Center as an example for other states to follow, based specifically on its investments in early stage energy startups. Job growth in the sector is also growing rapidly, according to a report released this summer by the Mass. Clean Energy Center (which absorbed the Renewable Energy Trust in late 2009 during current Governor Deval Patrick’s tenure).
Patrick has clearly been the more aggressive clean energy proponent, whereas Romney balked on Cape Wind and the regional cap-and-trade program RGGI. But to the extent that Romney did build some of the foundation for the state’s current clean energy prowess, it’s a shame to see him running away from it.
It’s impossible to know if Romney is truly flip-flopping, or simply believes in different roles for state and federal government. Either way, on the merits Massachusetts’ support for clean energy has been largely successful. And given his background in private equity, Romney should understand more than anyone that such investments should be evaluated not on a one-off basis – as has been the case with Solyndra – but as a portfolio.
Ultimately, by bringing to light Romney’s role in Massachusetts’ clean energy investment, Politico’s piece is a reminder of the more moderate, pragmatic Romney. Here’s hoping we see more of him on the campaign trail.