As Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick winds down his term in office, cleantech business leaders are lauding his strong support for the industry.

Over the last eight years of Patrick’s tenure, which officially ends in early January, he’s overseen strong growth in the state’s clean energy sector, rivaling achievements in California, New York and other forward-thinking states.

Last year, Massachusetts saw 10.5 percent job growth in clean energy, building on double-digit job growth for the last three years running. Today, there are more than 88,000 positions and nearly 6,000 businesses in the Commonwealth's clean energy sector, which is now a $10 billion industry responsible for 2.5 percent of Massachusetts' gross state product.

Shortly after Patrick took office, Massachusetts joined the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, the first mandatory cap-and-trade program in the United States to curb carbon dioxide emissions from the power sector. Around that time, Patrick also launched the first-ever joint office on clean energy and the environment.

“I think Governor Patrick’s strategy has personally escorted [clean energy] issues right into the mainstream economic agenda of our state,” said Ian Bowles, now managing director of WindSail Capital Group, who served as the inaugural secretary of energy and environmental affairs in Massachusetts. “That is a remarkable accomplishment.”

The Green Communities Act of 2008 included several reforms that would set a course for the state: it doubled the renewable portfolio standard, established a pilot program for PPAs, created an advanced green building code, set energy-efficiency incentives and mandated that gas and electric utilities establish energy-efficiency plans every three years.

These actions have had a discernible impact. When Patrick took office, Massachusetts had only 3 megawatts of solar capacity; it now has 650 megawatts. In 1997, energy efficiency investments in the state were capped at $125 million per year. In 2011, utilities announced plans to spend $2 billion on efficiency over three years, with an expected $6 billion in economic benefits. This year, Massachusetts was ranked the most energy-efficient state for the fourth year in a row.

Also in 2008, Governor Patrick signed the Green Jobs Act into law, which created the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center (MassCEC). He also signed the Global Warming Solutions Act, which established some of the most aggressive climate mitigation targets in the country by requiring a 25 percent reduction of greenhouse gas emissions by 2020 and an 80 percent reduction by 2050.

Those pieces of legislation were controversial. But the governor ultimately succeeded at getting buy-in from environmental advocates, the cleantech sector and traditional industries, said Alicia Barton, CEO of MassCEC. Governor Patrick also helped create a cluster for companies to collaborate on technology and market development.

“He is a model for other political leaders to look at and has a track record of success to stand on,” said Barton.

Cape Wind has arguably been Massachusetts’ most disputed cleantech initiative. The project was introduced more than a decade ago, and over the last eight years, the Patrick administration saw it through the permitting process, winning several legal battles and securing power-purchase agreements with major utilities. 

“He hasn’t gotten distracted by any...controversies around individual projects,” said Bowles.

Patrick’s focus on proactive action is one of his defining leadership features, said Phil Giudice, CEO of Ambri, who served under Patrick as Massachusetts' undersecretary of energy and commissioner of the Department of Energy Resources.

“The typical response in policy leadership around energy is years and years of complacency punctuated by a moment of panic, and as quickly as possible getting back to complacency,” said Giudice. “The panics are related to blackouts or energy price spikes or shortages, while intelligent policy, as practiced and demonstrated by Governor Patrick, is about anticipating future problems and marshaling resources to address them.”

Heads of two of the fastest-growing cleantech companies in the country, EnerNOC and Digital Lumens, both headquartered in Boston, also sang the governor’s praises.

Patrick’s vision and commitment to the clean energy sector is "unparalleled," said Tim Healy, co-founder and CEO of EnerNOC. “I’d put him up against any other governor, against any other state."

Healy pointed to Governor Patrick's support for the industry during his 2010 campaign, a time when cleantech was under intense political attack nationally, he added.

“I think that showed the type of leader that he always was. He wasn’t a supporter just when cleantech was popular; he was a supporter during the ups and the downs, the successes and the failures,” said Healy. “I think he gets it, and that’s why he’s been such a champion."

Governor Patrick’s leadership in clean energy hasn’t been limited to within Massachusetts' borders. “He was a fantastic representative of not just the Commonwealth but the nation in terms of our impact on the global cleantech revolution,” said Tom Pincince, president and CEO of Digital Lumens, who traveled with the governor on a trade mission to Mexico.

While in office, Patrick also led trade missions to Denmark, France, Canada, Japan, Columbia, Brazil and elsewhere. Global corporations, including Saint-Gobain and Shell, have already been attracted to the Northeast. Today, the New England Clean Energy Council (NECEC) announced that GE Ventures, Schneider Electric and Northeast Utilities have also expanded their strategic roles in the region.

“His are going to be huge shoes to fill,” said Pincince. “I think there’s going to be momentum going into the new governor’s term, and I think it’s imperative that the [new] governor picks up the momentum and realizes that this cluster is as important as the financial cluster, the traditional tech cluster, and the biotech cluster.”

All six New England states have gubernatorial elections this week, but not all candidates have the same levels of support for cleantech.

“It’s really important that the next governors also step up and find ways to be leaders to help accelerate and continue this growth, and do it in a smart, economically viable way,” said NECEC President Peter Rothstein. This summer, NECEC published a paper outlining its vision for the incoming group of New England governors.

Speaking at Forum 20/20 in Boston, Governor Patrick highlighted some of the state’s clean energy successes, including $2.5 million in new funding commitments for early-stage technologies. He also called on the clean energy community, in partnership with universities, advocacy groups, other industries and the new state government administration, to build on these achievements over the next eight years.

“Collaboration itself has delivered the highest impact,” he said. “And as I take my leave of this podium and this job, I hope you’ll hold on to that.”