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Battery Storage Developer Underwritten by Crony Capitalism

December 15, 2013

MetroWest Daily News guest columnist Barbara Durkin finds a “‘Confluence of influence’ behind state energy grants” (12/13/13). Durkin finds that

Project merit does not appear to be the driver of the renewables’ sector in Massachusetts.  The money trail reveals crony capitalists moving through revolving doors while they collect public subsidies.

In this case, part of the funding for the manufacturing plant in Marlborough for Ambri, the experimental liquid metal battery, is coming from electricity rate-payers through the Mass Clean Energy Center. The electricity surcharges are being added to the millions raised by the likes of Bill Gates, Khosla Ventures and “French oil and gas giant Total. The firm raised $15 million for its Series B round in May 2012″ according to Sara Castellanos “Renewable energy firm Ambri opens manufacturing plant in Marlborough” (11/7/13).

Durkin notes:

Phil Guidice, the CEO of Ambri, is a confluence of influence and former chair of the Massachusetts Renewable Energy Trust, now part of the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center funding Ambri.
Guidice has served as commissioner of the Department of Energy, and as Undersecretary of Energy of the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs.  Guidice was appointed by former U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu to the U.S. DOE’s Energy Efficiency and Renewables Advisory Committee.
Phil Guidice led the team that invested over $54 million in federal stimulus dollars in energy efficiency and renewable energy projects in Massachusetts.  Prior to joining the Patrick administration, Guidice was senior vice president of EnerNOC, which was awarded 20 percent of the state’s ARRA stimulus for a $10 million contract, by Guidice’s energy department.

Ambri’s prototype development facility is expected to create 60 jobs, and lead to the development of a full scale production plant in 2015, employing 125 (according to Castellanos). Meanwhile two prototypes will be deployed in 2014 or 2015, one on Cape Cod and the other in Hawaii for First Wind. The previous battery installation of First Wind was destroyed in a fire in 2012.

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. December 18, 2013 2:26 pm

    While I agree that grid scale energy storage is desperately needed, I am unconvinced that public funding is necessary. History has shown us many abuses a la Solyndra and Evergreen Solar, for two that come to mind. In the long run wasting public money in technologies with government connections serves to delay the emergence of the better solution.

    I would rather see public funding directed at basic research, and let any promising technologies attract private funds for development.

  2. December 15, 2013 4:24 pm

    I am not impressed with MIT. The two last projects that were successful involved RADAR and the Atom Bomb in WWII, and that was because failure meant death and destruction for all. Since then there have been a succession of research projects where the lead professors raised private funding that has led to the founding of private companies to raise public or venture capital that have failed leaving the founders rich. survival is a stronger incentive than greed.

    Grid scale energy storage has been the missing link not only for renewable energy but for doubling the efficiency of fossil fuel suppliers. The big difference is that unlike fossil fuel, in the absence of grid scale storage wind and solar have no value.

    While I hope they will succeed, I fear that this is just the latest scheme to mask over the failures of wind and solar worldwide.

    • Benjamin permalink
      December 16, 2013 8:54 am

      Funding energy-start ups like Ambri is one of the best potential uses for electric rate-payers’ money. Grid scale storage is going to be developed because it is desperately needed and Ambri has one of the most promising technologies at present. Using clean energy funding to support the success of such a technology is not only a way towards building the more efficient and less carbon intensive grid we need to survive, but could have huge economic benefits. Assuming Ambri becomes successful and will stay in Massachusetts, it will provide not just jobs, but *quality* jobs, and will also kick into the tax pool in a much more significant way than what it gets from the clean energy fund now. It is true that as a start up there is risk and the whole technology could fail or be superceded by something better. From the research I’ve done, it is clear that not only does Ambri have one of the best storage solutions out there, but it also has many brilliant, ambitious engineers who clearly care about the future of the planet.

      It would not only be insane not to fund this project, it would be selfish. Accepting the energy status quo is, at this point, stealing from the human future. There is an urgent, even moral, need to fund these projects. In the long run they are far better than buying the bombs, the soft tissue surgeries, and the ruined landscapes that are right around the corner if we continue to do nothing.

      Please note that I do not work for, or am in any way directly related with Ambri, Mass CEC etc. I just want to feel like the planet will be here in a recognizable form for my niece in 40 years and that I don’t have to feel like I’m kicking some kid in Brockton or Bangladesh in the lungs every time I hear the fridge start up. -Benjamin

      • December 18, 2013 3:29 pm

        While I agree that grid scale energy storage is desperately needed, I am unconvinced that public funding is necessary. History has shown us many abuses a la Solyndra and Evergreen Solar, for two that come to mind. In the long run wasting public money in technologies with government connections serves to delay the emergence of the better solution.

        I would rather see public funding directed at basic research, and let any promising technologies attract private funds for development.

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