State Cleantech Experts Debate Policy, Finance, and Global Opportunities at MITEF Event

1/21/10Follow @gthuang

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our finances work, so extra investment is hard,” he said. And two, “The state lacks a clear energy strategy.” Which is where Weed, and discussions like this, come into play.

Zenger, whose venture firm recently funded Seattle-based Tuusso Energy, pointed out that the Northwest lacks capital focused on cleantech—especially relative to the number of patents and engineers in the field. “Capital begets entrepreneurs, and it’s a virtuous cycle,” he said. But he’s convinced that the Northwest has high early-adoption rates here. That is, people are willing and eager to support innovations from cleantech companies based here. That customer base is “a strength of the region,” he said.

And Woodworth maintained, “We’re in a transition for a new era of energy. But we’re rooted in a culture that doesn’t race to embrace new policies.”

Much of the discussion revolved around the role of government in promoting the green industry. From where Weed sits, he said, “I have concerns about the government in the role of venture investor. I’m pushing back on that.” Instead, he said, “We can serve as a convener.” To that end, the state has appointed a clean energy leadership council, mostly from the private sector, to provide advice on how to power the economy through cleantech. “They owe us an answer by this summer,” Weed said.

Zenger mostly agreed, saying the key is to help companies compete globally the way local giants like Boeing, Amazon, Microsoft, and Nike do. “We need to create an environment around catalyzing these companies, but not protect them,” he said. “Instead of government allocating capital, government should be putting [in place] policy that supports our long term goals. As a taxpayer, I’m mortified that the [federal] government is picking winners and giving them grants.”

But Irving said the federal government does need to “level the playing field.” That means charging consumers for the “true cost of fossil energy” versus clean energy. “I can’t sell my products in the state, they don’t compete,” she said. “ I can sell much more easily in California or Europe where there is embedded in the cost of electricity all the other factors.”

Weed agreed to some extent, saying, “We need a price on carbon.” But he also pointed out that “there are businesses here because of our low prices, so you have to figure out how to manage that.” And he defended his boss, Gov. Gregoire, saying she “has been driving for a … Next Page »

Gregory T. Huang is Xconomy's Deputy Editor, National IT Editor, and the Editor of Xconomy Boston. You can e-mail him at gthuang@xconomy.com or call him at 617-252-7323. Follow @gthuang

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