China Syndrome

Ian Bowles reflects on moving Massachusetts into the lead on clean energy -- and how the feds might have thrown it all away
By DAVID S. BERNSTEIN  |  March 18, 2011

Ian Bowles 

Massachusetts has successfully jumped way out in front of every other state in the race for a share of the emerging trillion-dollar clean-energy market — which might end up meaning nothing, as the United States pisses away its chance to be part of that industry.

That is both the boast, and the fear, of the man who led the Bay State's clean-energy efforts for four years: former secretary of the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs Ian Bowles.

Bowles, one of the first department heads tapped by Governor Deval Patrick after his election in 2006, left the administration at the end of 2010 after spearheading arguably the most aggressive and successful policy initiative of the governor's first term. While other priorities — including education, criminal justice, transportation, business development, and gaming — remain works in progress, nearly everyone agrees that the greening of Massachusetts's energy policy has been an enormous success.

The extent of that success became clear in late December, when Bowles completed his final duty in office: the release of a clean-energy plan for the commonwealth. As required by the state's landmark Global Warming Solutions Act of 2008, Bowles had to recommend a 2020 target for reduction of greenhouse-gas emissions — somewhere between 10 and 25 percent below 1990 levels. Bowles's report recommends the maximum, 25 percent, because — and here's the jaw-dropper — the state is already on track for an 18 percent reduction, even if no additional steps are taken.

That announcement got very little local attention, but it's a significant achievement, light years ahead of any other state. And it's a reminder that, while everyone's been focused on the administration's efforts toward jobs and the economy — not to mention distractions like drapes and the Marian Walsh appointment — Patrick and Bowles have led a remarkable charge to put Massachusetts at the front of the clean-energy revolution.

It will also serve as a great talking point if Bowles decides to run for office one day, which he admits may be in the cards.

For now, though, Bowles is heading to the private sector: working to get a start-up energy-efficiency company off the ground, while consulting for technology companies and taking paid speaking engagements.

He sat down with the Phoenix recently to talk about how far the commonwealth has come. But he ended up contemplating whether it might all be for naught, as China and Europe run past us.


When Patrick entered office, Massachusetts was in prime position to step into the clean-energy game, compared with other states. High energy costs, regional influence (the state is responsible for half of New England's power market), and a concentration of brainpower, talent, and venture capital all meant that the incentives and opportunity for major change were in place.

Plus, Massachusetts had a rare political opportunity. In the overwhelmingly Democratic legislature, Senate President Therese Murray and then-Speaker Sal DiMasi were supportive — on both environmental and economic grounds. And the new Democratic governor not only made clean energy a priority, but immediately restructured his cabinet to put environment and energy under one secretary for the first time.

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Related: In the wake of the latest corruption scandal, let's just torch the offending chamber, Deval's Green Blues, Cleaning up after DiMasi, More more >
  Topics: Talking Politics , Massachusetts, Politics, China,  More more >
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