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Studies cite gains in Mass. renewable energy industry

20,000 work in state’s renewable industry; Boston tops in efficiency

A solar installation at the Drydock building in the Boston Marine Industrial Park.

David L. Ryan/Globe Staff /File 2012

A solar installation at the Drydock building in the Boston Marine Industrial Park.

The state’s clean energy industry continues to thrive, according to two separate reports released Tuesday, with more than 20,000 employees working in renewable energy in Massachusetts and Boston ranked the most energy-efficient US city.

An analysis for the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center, a quasipublic agency created to support the alternative energy sector, found the jobs in the industry were spread across several energy technologies, including solar, wind, hydropower, and bioenergy, which includes biofuels. Alicia Barton, chief executive of the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center, said the analysis shows the diversity of the state’s renewable energy sector. “It speaks to our expertise at developing products for market,” she said.

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Far and away the biggest employment segment was solar, which accounted for nearly 60 percent, or roughly 12,550, of all renewable energy jobs. The solar market has boomed here, attracting companies from around the nation, because of state policies that encourage its growth, including incentive programs and a goal to install 1,600 megawatts of solar generating capacity in the state by 2020 — enough to power up to 400,000 homes.

Governor Deval Patrick had previously set the goal at 250 megawatts by 2017, but the state hit that target earlier this year. As of Sept. 1, there were 311 megawatts of solar generating capacity installed.

Frank van Mierlo, chief executive of 1366 Technologies, a solar wafer making firm with a demonstration factory in Bedford, said the solar market is so hot that he’s hoping to recruit workers who will lose jobs when Intel closes its computer chip making plant in Hudson. Both solar cells and computer chips are made with silicon.

Today, 1366 has 50 employees.

“We are rapidly growing,” van Mierlo said. “Tell all the employees in Hudson to send their resumes to 1366. We are looking for engineers, technicians, managers.”

Hydropower, including tidal and wave technologies, represented the next largest segment of the Massachusetts clean technology industry, accounting for more than 2,700 jobs or about 13 percent of employment. Wind power, which employs nearly 2,300, accounted for about 11 percent of the industry’s jobs.

Wind, like solar, has enjoyed a similar boost from state incentives and policies, said Paul Gaynor, chief executive of Boston-based First Wind, a wind developer.

“It’s been a huge driver of demand in the region,” said Gaynor, whose company’s national employment as has doubled, to 200, in the last several years. First Wind employs about 80 in Massachusetts.

Meanwhile, in a brand-new ranking of the most populous US cities, the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, named Boston the most energy efficient.

The council, a nonprofit advocacy group, has rated states for the past several years, but this is the first time the organization has applied its criteria to cities, judging them on policies, government operations, communitywide initiatives, and utility programs. Thirty-four cities were ranked, with Boston beating out Portland, Ore., New York, San Francisco, and Seattle.

“I always believed that mayors have a responsibility to push the envelope on reducing greenhouse gas emissions,” said Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino. “That’s why I created aggressive greenhouse gas emissions goals.”

Boston set itself apart from other cities with community initiatives such as Renew Boston, a network of energy efficiency and alternative energy providers that coordinate efforts to help the city achieve its energy goals. Those goals include reducing electricity usage by 200 megawatts by 2017, and cutting greenhouse gas emissions 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050.

Jim O’Reilly, acting executive director at the Northeast Energy Efficiency Partnerships, a Lexington nonprofit that promotes energy efficiency in the region, said he believes Boston’s recent passage of an ordinance requiring large commercial building owners to report their energy use also helped the city achieve the number one spot.

“This kind of disclosure policy will help leverage the power of the market to drive retrofits and make our buildings more efficient,” O’Reilly said.

Boston’s top ranking by the council solidifies the state’s leadership on energy efficiency. Last year, the council ranked Massachusetts the most energy-efficient state for the second year in a row. State rankings for 2013 have not yet been released.

Erin Ailworth can be reached at eailworth@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @ailworth
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