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Alternative fuels aren’t boosting state economy yet

By Robert Gavin
Globe Staff / November 11, 2009

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Despite all the talk of its promise, alternative energy is unlikely to become a driver of the Massachusetts and New England economy, at least for the next several years, according to the nonprofit research group New England Economic Partnership.

Alternative energy, which encompasses a variety of technologies aimed at replacing fossil fuels and reducing pollution, is growing, but it still accounts for only a fraction - about 0.7 percent - of jobs in both Massachusetts and New England, the partnership’s economists said yesterday. Even with incentives from state and federal governments, the sector is likely to remain a small part of the overall economy for some time.

Massachusetts, for example, has about 27,000 jobs related to alternative energy, which are often called “green jobs.’’ Manufacturing, in comparison, accounts for about 270,000 of the state’s more than 3 million jobs.

“The green economy can’t be relied on as the next single growth engine for our region,’’ said Ross Gittell, a University of New Hampshire professor and forecaster for the partnership.

Still, Gittell said, the sector could provide opportunities for the region, particularly if tied to other technology industries. The interest in alternative energy has grown in recent years as a way to reduce dependence on foreign oil and cut carbon dioxide emissions, which contribute to global warming.

Massachusetts’ secretary of energy and environmental affairs, Ian Bowles, acknowledged that alternative energy is an emerging industry that “will take some time before it reaches scale.’’

“But the environmental imperative to reduce carbon emissions will mean trillions of dollars of energy infrastructure getting replaced over the coming decades, creating large markets, both locally and nationally, for Massachusetts companies,’’ he said. “Clean energy is an industry of the future for Massachusetts, and the future is coming faster than we think.’’