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High energy costs a deterrent as NH looks to attract and keep companies

Union Leader Correspondent

August 03. 2018 9:25PM
During a roundtable discussion Friday, Sig Sauer CEO Ron Cohen, left, said he wants to hire more employees but electricity rates in New Hampshire are high. Gov. Chris Sununu, right, other elected officials and business leaders took part in the discussion at Sig Sauer in Epping. (Kimberley Haas/Union Leader Correspondent)

EPPING — The CEO of Sig Sauer talked about the national manufacturing renaissance Friday during a roundtable discussion held at the company’s academy in Epping.

Ron Cohen wants his 1,500-person company to add 150 more jobs.

Cohen held the event at his facility to talk about energy costs. Sig Sauer would save $1.2 million a year in electricity if it moved to Arkansas, he said.

Gov. Chris Sununu said it is tough for New Hampshire to compete with other states when it comes to electricity prices, but the workforce is being retained and growing. Sununu used Lonza Biologics in Portsmouth as an example.

The company currently employs about 800 people at its facility at Pease International Tradeport. Officials there plan to add up to 1,000 jobs and 1 million-square-feet of space.

Chris Suprock, manager of Suprock Technologies in Warren, talked about having a diverse set of options for electricity.

“Nobody likes to talk about coal, but it’s very important to the portfolio … Same with nuclear energy,” Suprock said.

Sununu said he is speaking with smaller plants using new hydrogen-based technologies. One is looking closely at opening a facility in Groveton.

After the roundtable, Sununu said it’s great that the North Country is being considered as a location for the facility.

“It’s a great example of manufacturing returning to the North Country, economic development returning to some of these towns that could really use a great stimulus,” Sununu said.

Sununu talked about why he vetoed Senate Bill 365 in June. The legislation would have required Eversource and other distribution utilities to pay above-market rates to the state’s six wood-burning power plants.

Critics of the move say the North Country will be hard hit by Sununu’s veto and jeopardize hundreds of forest industry jobs across the state.

The cost would have been passed on to customers, Sununu said.

“(Senate Bill) 365, that bill alone, would have cost low income families $2 million a year — a year. And potentially drive out manufacturing,” Sununu said.

Sununu said when companies looking to come into the state present him with the objection to high energy costs, he talks about what is being done to make sure rates won’t increase in the future.

“It’s tough. I can’t promise we’re going to lower rates next year. There’s just no way to do that,” Sununu said.

Sununu said the manufacturing renaissance in New Hampshire is the result of putting little pieces of the puzzle in place. That includes deregulation and promotion of the state.

“There is a renaissance. People said manufacturing is dead. ‘That’s the old way of doing things.’ It is the life-blood of our economy. And we’re driving manufacturing not just into the southern tier, but into the northern tier,” Sununu said.

Prior to the roundtable discussion, Sununu signed three bills into law: House bills 1550, 1555 and 317.

HB 1550 requires electric bills to include the cost of compliance with renewable energy standards.

HB 1555 requires the public utilities commission and the office of the consumer advocate to fight federal policies that would have rate impacts determined to be unjust or unreasonable.

HB 317 requires legislative approval for increases in the system benefits charge, which funds energy efficiency initiatives.

In June, regulators announced a new energy supply rate for Eversource, the state’s largest electricity provider. The current energy supply rate is 7.9 cents per kilowatt hour. It will be going up to 9.4 cents per kilowatt hour for six months starting on Aug. 1.

Eversource is now purchasing power six months at a time, and rate adjustments will be made on Aug. 1 and Feb. 1 each year.

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