By Bill Kirk
---- — HAVERHILL — While Massachusetts, and the Merrimack Valley in particular, continue to lead the way in renewable energy jobs and energy efficiency, there is still much to do, experts and public officials said at a business breakfast yesterday.
During the kickoff event for the Merrimack Valley Chamber of Commerce’s annual Business Expo at Michael’s Function Hall off Route 110 in Haverhill, the Massachusetts Secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs told the crowd of about 50 people that the state spends $22 billion a year in energy costs, with most of that money going out of the country.
“It leaves the region and the country,” Richard Sullivan said. “We need to keep those dollars here in Massachusetts.”
He said the state’s incentive programs for renewable energy such as wind and solar power have helped create local jobs and helped support local businesses.
“Over 5,000 companies are doing business in Massachusetts employing 72,000 people,” he said.
Several of those companies were represented on a panel at the breakfast meeting yesterday, including Columbia Gas, Wheelabrator and Nexamp Inc. of North Andover and Solectria Renewables of Lawrence.
“We hope to double or triple our workforce” over the next several years, said Mark Goodreau, director of North American sales for utility-scale solutions. Solectria sells devices that convert solar power to electricity that can be sold back to power companies or used in homes and businesses.
Jon Abe, senior vice president in charge of marketing, regulatory affairs, and trading at Nexamp, a North Andover solar power company, said the company is celebrating its seventh anniversary and has grown from having just two employees to more than 50 full-time workers.
As the install-season ramps up, he said, the company will employ an additional 300 private contractors.
While most of the news is good when it comes to renewable energy, wind power has hit some bumps along the way, Sullivan said. He noted that while solar will hit its target of creating 250 megawatts of power next year - four years earlier than forecast - it may take longer to reach the 2,000-megawatt goal for wind power.
The reason, he said, is that several land-based wind turbine projects have been met with opposition from neighbors, slowing down the process of getting them on-line. Meanwhile, he said, the prospect of more offshore wind turbines should create more electricity but are taking longer to get approved through the permitting process.