Sunday, March 13, 2011

GDF Suez: Green in Europe

GDF Suez, the energy giant that owns the coal-burning power station at Mount Tom, Holyoke, is getting greener.

In addition to winning the Gigaton Award last year from the Carbon War Room, GDF Suez has picked up the World Carbon Finance Market award in the category for renewable energy project developers. Gerard Mestrallet (pictured) and his team deserve credit for taking strides in the right direction by building up the proportion of electricity they generate from renewables.

The steady greening of GDF Suez means more than plaudits in the press. It spells good news for workers in the clean-energy sector.

But only if they happen to live in Europe.

For example, GDF Suez has just entered into a deal for photovoltaic modules. The winner of the multi-million dollar contract? Bisol, a Slovenian company.

The agreement complements the pholovoltaics research GDF Suez has been undertaking through a subsidiary. The subsidiary is called Photovoltech and you'll find it in the town of Tienen, which is in Belgium.

In addition to solar energy, GDF Suez invests heavily in wind. The company is spending approximately 10 billion (yes, billion) Euros to build an offshore windfarm. Where? Near Saint-Nazaire, in northern France.

Later this year GDF Suez will unveil another wind farm. In the words of the GDF Suez website, this one will be big enough to "spare 145,000 tons of CO2 per year from being spewed into the atmosphere!" The location? Haute-Pays, France.

One of the GDF Suez's sources of renewable energy on this side of the Atlantic is its cluster of windfarms in New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island, Canada, which together generate over 700 megawatts of electricity. As a result of ordinary wear and tear, the turbines need an upgrade.

A quick glance at a map reveals that Prince Edward Island is not all that far from Massachusetts. But workers in Massachusetts, home to the pioneers of wind-energy, didn't stand a chance. Instead, GDF Suez awarded the retrofit contract to Moventas, a Finnish company.

If any clean-energy workers in Belgium, France, Finland, and Slovenia happen to be reading this, please accept my sincere congratulations. I'm glad that your elected officials, unions, and entrepreneurs had the foresight to work together so effectively, investing in green-skills education and training over many years. We in Massachusetts don't want to take your jobs and livelihoods away from you.

But surely there's something in the realm of renewable-energy that GDF Suez can do in Holyoke, Massachusetts. As we ponder a post-coal future for Mount Tom, let's look at leveraging both Holyoke's and GDF Suez's green credentials in ways that bring in new jobs and tax dollars.

For example, wouldn't Mount Tom be the perfect place to build a wind-hydrogen village like the one in Prince Edward Island, perhaps in partnership with municipally-owned Holyoke Gas & Electric?

After all, why should all the good green jobs go to Europe?

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