PORTLAND — A recent episode of CBS’ “60 Minutes” asked the question “Is clean technology dead?” and answered it with cherry-picked examples of “expensive tax-funded flops” and dire warnings about venture capitalists’ retreat from clean-energy investments.

Evolving clean-tech financing mechanisms, along with transitions in the natural gas industry, are certainly influencing the sector. But we’re happy to report that clean-tech entrepreneurial and economic activity is alive and well in Maine and many businesses are optimistic about the future.

The Environmental & Energy Technology Council of Maine, or E2Tech, a nonprofit with 175 business and individual members, in partnership with the Maine Technology Institute and other private- and public-sector entities, is identifying, promoting and implementing initiatives to advance environmental, energy and clean-technology companies, products and services.

According to “The Clean Technology Sector in Maine 2013,” a report prepared with the University of Maine and Innovation Policyworks, Maine experienced 31 percent growth in clean-tech employment from 2003 to 2010. By comparison, overall employment in Maine grew by less than 1 percent during the same period.

Maine’s clean-technology sector has an annual economic impact, including multiplier effects, of an estimated $2.3 billion in output, 20,401 full- and part-time jobs, and $689 million in labor income. The average salary of clean-tech occupations in Maine is $48,769, 24 percent higher than 2012 per capita income.

A survey of clean-tech companies last year indicates that many of these businesses are expanding and expect positive growth in the future. Almost half of Maine’s clean technology-sector companies responded that they grew more than 10 percent in the past year, and 60 percent plan to expand and/or purchase new equipment in the next three years.

Our state is unique in the national clean-technology sector because of our natural resources. Supply chains that take advantage of these resources, like wind and wood, are creating exportable expertise, technologies and services in the national and international markets, and Maine companies and their employees stand to profit.

Maine also has a robust environmental and energy policy climate, a number of world-class laboratories and research facilities, and a strong, coordinated business asset and infrastructure network that supports new technologies.

For example, the state possesses considerable natural offshore wind and tidal resources, and exceptional assets in its precision and composites manufacturing, engineering, construction, marine services and trades, applied research and development, and transportation and logistics communities. Companies are creating jobs in Maine and attracting federal funding and private investment.

The University of Maine-led offshore wind project, VolturnUS, in Castine, is the first grid-connected floating offshore wind project in the Americas. Maine Aqua Ventus I, a two-turbine, 12-megawatt project, is proposed by a partnership of Cianbro, Emera and UMaine for a test site south of Monhegan. Maine Aqua Ventus is competing for one of three $46.6 million federal grants that could thrust the project closer to developing the country’s first commercial-scale offshore wind farm.

Meanwhile, Ocean Renewable Power Co., the first tidal energy project in the United States to deliver power to the grid, is coming off an incredible year of project successes, awards and even a spot on Popular Science’s annual “Best of What’s New” list.

The “60 Minutes” piece did call attention to real challenges in the clean-tech industry, namely, changing investment models in venture capital. Maine entrepreneurs have cited lack of access to venture capital resources needed for growth as an obstacle in their business-development implementation plans. The state will need support for renewable energy, energy efficiency and environmental initiatives and investment in research and development with the goal of leading to commercialization of products and services to continue its momentum.

E2Tech is working with an incredibly experienced set of partners and businesses to identify the diverse range of value-added products, services and technologies across the state and region with an environmental benefit so that we can accelerate the growth of a sustainable clean-tech sector in Maine. Maine and its manufacturers, startups, construction companies, engineers and academic institutions are building the state’s clean-technology economy with innovative ideas, good business practices and private investment.

– Special to the Press Herald