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The Podium

Green Communities Act is good for business

Beacon Hill leaders are once again about to take another courageous step forward by making their pioneering energy strategy — the Green Communities Act of 2008 — even better. Not surprisingly, clean energy critics are using sensationalized scare tactics to try to bully lawmakers into backing down from a bill that could help save consumers money and realize the jobs and health benefits of clean and renewable energy generation in the Commonwealth.

Many business leaders like me support the bill, which would improve a program already delivering real economic benefits. Massachusetts’ Green Communities Act — a nation-leading law that promotes energy efficiency and renewable energy — helps lower costs and boost efficiency for companies, families, and communities across the Commonwealth. In fact, our state is now ranked the most energy-efficient in the country, and Massachusetts continues to attract major innovative businesses focusing on clean energy and efficiency.

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Operating a business across state lines gives you a special awareness of the ways in which different states’ policies can affect your business. In Virginia, we have made simple changes such as switching the lighting over to energy-efficient bulbs and fixtures in our hotels. But in Massachusetts, where better incentives exist to ramp up efficiency, we have made much more significant investments to replace boilers and cooling towers with super efficient equipment, cutting energy use by 35 percent. We have installed energy-efficient windows, LED and compact fluorescent lighting, and infrared thermostats that can tell when a room is empty and adjust the temperature accordingly. Next, we’re planning a solar power project, to provide clean, homegrown power.

Here in Massachusetts, tax breaks and other state incentives have shortened the payback period on these projects, helping close the gap between what we’d like to do and what we can afford to do — to save energy, add renewable generation and keep the air clean. Multiply our actions by thousands of similar efforts by other businesses, organizations, and families, and you can see how our state’s energy policies are lowering demand for power and easing upward pressure on rates.

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And this kind of work can’t be outsourced, which is one reason the clean energy sector in Massachusetts grew, despite the economic slowdown, by more than 6 percent last year. Now 64,000 Massachusetts workers are employed in the clean energy economy—well-paying jobs such as blowing insulation into homes, installing appliances that use less energy, increasing wind energy capacity, installing solar panels, and developing new technologies like advanced batteries that can store electricity for use later on.

With more and more companies enacting efficiency and alternative energy plans across the Commonwealth, there is a critical mass of customers here. And they are being served by a local, fast growing clean energy cluster vying for a piece of a surging global market. Worldwide clean energy investment expanded by five percent last year to a record $260 billion, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance. Bloomberg also finds that price parity between coal-powered and solar-powered electricity is fast approaching in the next few years. Clean energy companies that could set up shop anywhere in the world continue to choose Massachusetts, confident that they will find fertile ground for growth.

And the bottom line for us all is exciting. Investments under the Green Communities Act are on track to deliver ratepayers net savings of $5.8 billion over the next four years. Projections indicate a phenomenal $2.50 in customer benefits for every $1.10 invested. I’ll take that rate of return any day — any businessperson would.

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Making the Green Communities Act even stronger is good for business — and it’s a great deal for the people of Massachusetts.

Tedd Saunders is chief sustainability officer for the Saunders Hotel Group, and co-owner of The Lenox Hotel and other properties.

The Podium features local experts and advocates weighing in on the issues of the day. Read more here.