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Pennsylvania governor pushes state into green tech

SAN FRANCISCO--Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell will try to pass a bill this year in which his state will spend $850 million to increase the use of alternative fuels and attract clean technology companies to the state.

The programs will run the gamut of government subsidies, he said Tuesday during a speech and a hallway conversation at the Cleantech Forum taking place here. The state will invest directly in start-ups (as New Mexico has done), invest in VC firms, provide grants and loans to start-ups, build industrial centers, and offer tax breaks. Consumers will also get subsides for putting solar panels on their roofs.

"People understand that there has to be growth and new jobs," he said. So far, the state has attracted with subsidies a wind turbine manufacturer and two Chinese solar panel manufacturers are contemplating opening plants in the states to serve U.S. customers.

So-called clean coal could also become a local specialty. "Pennsylvania has 3 billion tons of coal waste and 27 billion tons of coal in the ground," he said. A lot of those empty mines and oil fields could conceivably be used to one day sequester carbon dioxide under ground.

Other states are wooing alternative energy firms as well. New York, California and Wisconsin have been particularly aggressive.

Still, getting the bill passed will take some arm twisting. Pennsylvania was one of the more dynamic economic engines in the U.S. in the 1940s and '50s, but now it has an aging population that can be resistant to change, he said.

Former Virginia governor and presidential candidate Mark Warner, who also showed up at the conference, echoed Rendell's statement that clean tech will likely be a major source of new jobs in the future. Trying to build the industry, which Warner says the federal government has largely ignored, will also help national security.

"Does it make sense to send $250 billion a year abroad mostly to people who don't like us," Warner asked rhetorically about U.S. oil imports.