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'Cleantech' boosts the economy in NH

SustainX in Seabrook holds several patents for cutting-edge energy storage using compressed gas.

Fiber-Next in Concord builds fiber-optic networks used at wind and solar facilities.

GE Meters in Somersworth develops the software used in smart electrical meters produced by General Electric.

Those are just three of 200 or more companies in New Hampshire that are part of the “cleantech” sector, which accounts for a “significant and growing share” of the state’s economy, according to an economic analysis released on March 3 by the New Hampshire Clean Tech Council.

The research by economist Matt Magnusson of Seacoast Economics was commissioned by the council, which advocates for clean energy businesses.

According to the report, an estimated 15,000 to 20,000 New Hampshire workers are employed by the cleantech industry, with wages 50 percent higher than the state average.

The report also claims cleantech has a higher than average impact on economic development, and that the Granite State is well-positioned to take advantage of growth in the coming years.

“This independent report shows that New Hampshire is getting a huge economic boost from cleantech,” said Kate Epsen, executive director of the New Hampshire Sustainable Energy Association and director of its lobbying arm, the Clean Tech Council. “But it also tells us that we have only scratched the surface of what we can do for our economy if we can continue to nurture and grow the cleantech sector.”

Cleantech refers to technologies, services and products that reduce energy consumption in a wide range of industries, including construction, transportation, utilities and waste processing.

State Sen. Jeb Bradley, who chairs the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, said the report makes a good case for the economic impact of cleantech industries.

“I was very interested to learn about the substantial growth specifically in the solar and biomass heating industries in our state,” he said. “These are examples of a real economic engine in New Hampshire and we should continue to support this momentum.”

“New Hampshire’s Clean Tech Market Report,” suggests that the sector could grow even faster if New Hampshire adopted energy efficiency standards that are in place in all other Northeastern states, according to Epsen, who said Massachusetts has been reducing its energy consumption from 2 percent to 3 percent per year through its energy efficiency standards.

“Energy efficiency standards would recognize efficiency as a real resource, and would set a goal for the state collectively to achieve those standards,” she said.

An Energy Efficiency Resource Standard would add an estimated 2,300 jobs and $160 million in gross state product annually, according to the report.

Twenty-five states are currently implementing long-term, binding energy savings targets, according to the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy. One approach is to incorporate energy efficiency as an eligible resource in renewable portfolio standards, which means energy efficiencies would be subsidized like biomass or small-scale hydro projects.

“Energy efficiency requires some investment,” Epsen said, “the same way that we might invest in a transmission line or natural gas pipeline.”

New Hampshire has renewable energy portfolio standards and participates an a regional collaborative to reduce greenhouse gases, although both of those programs have been under fire in the state Legislature. The state has never embraced energy efficiency standards.

“It’s been a political challenge to get that passed,” said Epsen.

Greg Moore, state director of the conservative policy group Americans for Prosperity, said having government pick winners and losers runs counter to the state’s political culture.

“AFP doesn’t oppose renewable energy technology, but those should be able to stand or fall on their own, without subsidies driven by mandated higher electricity costs for New Hampshire ratepayers,” he said.

Moore pointed out that impact on consumer bills in the “system benefits charge” can be $3 a month or more to support energy efficiency standards.

“When consumers are hit with rates that are $3 or more a month higher to pay for these technologies, that represents both a hardship on the public as well as a less competitive environment for economic growth,” he said.

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