Merger Brewing Between New England Energy Innovation Collaborative, Clean Energy Council

The “green” energy business is growing so quickly in Massachusetts that it will soon leapfrog textiles to become Massachusetts’ 10th-largest industry, according to a survey released earlier this month. In the latest sign of the ferment, the leader of the New England Energy Innovation Collaborative (NEEIC)—a non-profit group launched by the venture-capital community last year to aid in the growth of a regional cluster of clean-energy technology companies—says it’s likely his group will join forces with the Massachusetts Clean Energy Council, a still-embryonic industry group charged with a similar mission by Gov. Deval Patrick.

“There is incredible value in bringing these two organizations together,” says Nick d’Arbeloff, NEEIC’s executive director. “A combined organization would carry significantly more weight than either organization would on its own.”

The Clean Energy Council has been crystallizing since June 15, when Ian Bowles, Patrick’s secretary for energy and environmental affairs, organized talks at Boston’s Foley Hoag law firm that brought together more than 100 clean-energy stakeholders, including representatives of technology companies, research institutions, trade groups, law firms, and government agencies. Bowles said Patrick believes the Bay State needs a clean-energy advocacy group modeled on the Massachusetts Network Communications Council and the Massachusetts Biotechnology Council, which are funded by dues from members and which work to improve the regulatory and financial climates for telecommunications and life-sciences companies, respectively.

But that kind of advocacy is already part of the mission of NEEIC, which has sponsorship from Advanced Technology Ventures, Flagship Ventures, General Catalyst, Foley Hoag, WilmerHale, and a number of other venture capital and intellectual-property law firms. D’Arbeloff says discussions about uniting the council and the collaborative have been going on for about five weeks—or roughly half of the council’s brief lifetime.

“There has been, as is natural between two groups that clearly have overlapping visions, some tension and a little bit of conflict, and there have been calls from people involved in each group to figure out if we couldn’t find a way to collaborate,” says d’Arbeloff. “A little more than a month ago we started looking in earnest at the whole notion of a merger. There are still some sticking points—logistical and organizational issues that we’re working through by fits and starts. But we have some really good agreement on the fundamental building blocks.”

Weaving the two group’s activities together should not be difficult, to hear d’Arbeloff tell it. Clean Energy Council members have already identified 10 “acceleration initiatives” to guide the industry’s growth in Massachusetts, including increasing public and private funding for clean energy development, lobbying for rate changes that would give utilities greater incentives to buy green energy, and promoting incentives for consumers to use energy from environmentally friendly sources. Those initiatives overlap with NEEIC’s existing focus areas, and d’Arbeloff says the two group’s activities will likely be woven together into five themes: innovation, growth, adoption, education, and policy.

One key task, says d’Arbeloff, will be to lobby the state legislature for more money for seed grants for local innovators, whom he says need help developing their clean-energy prototypes into “investable” products—that is, business opportunities that the venture community will take seriously.

Getting clean-energy ideas to market is a goal shared, of course, by a cluster of other organizations, including the Massachusetts Technology Transfer Center, the Massachusetts Technology Development Corporation, the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative’s Renewable Energy Trust, and the Environmental and Developmental Innovation portfolio of the Deshpande Center for Technological Innovation at MIT. Rather than seeking to seize leadership or duplicate the efforts of all these groups, the Clean Energy Council seeks to be “a neutral convener representing a broad range of stakeholders,” according to its website. That is not likely to change if the envisioned merger takes place.

It’s unclear how a merger with NEEIC might affect the timeline for the Clean Energy Council’s public coming-out. A formal launch is planned for October, according to the Council’s preliminary website—and its unofficial spokesperson, Bruce Anderson, CEO of Woburn-based Wilson TurboPower, told the Boston Globe two weeks ago that the group was “solidly on track” to hit that date. Xconomy was unable to reach Anderson for comment.

Wade Roush is a freelance science and technology journalist and the producer and host of the podcast Soonish. Follow @soonishpodcast

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