Solar array in Exeter

A solar panel lays on a grid that was later mounted on the roof of Exeter High School for a solar array in 2009, which at the time was the largest in the state. This year, Gov. Chris Sununu vetoed a bill that encouraged large-scale solar energy projects for businesses and municipalities.

MANCHESTER — State incentives for solar projects should focus on driving down the bills of solar customers and include projects built in low-income areas, Gov. Chris Sununu says.

“Let’s not worry about putting money into the biggest energy developers’ pockets,” Sununu said at an energy summit Thursday at the DoubleTree by Hilton. “Let’s put the money back into the pockets of the individuals paying.”

Sununu this year vetoed a bill that encouraged large-scale solar energy projects for businesses and municipalities, a measure the Legislature attempted to override. On Thursday, the governor pushed for solar projects on top of apartment buildings, in trailer parks and in retirement communities.

“Now if you come and say we want a million dollars for a solar array and we’re going to put it in a low-income community and we’re going to make sure that all those folks in those communities are going to cut their bills in half, well, now we’re talking, into perpetuity,” Sununu said.

“Now, somebody is getting an actual benefit, not just the developer or not just a municipality.”

The governor also said he recently met with officials of the Burgess biomass plant in Berlin.

The governor signed a bill this year that extended an agreement through which Eversource buys power from Burgess at above-market rates, costs that get passed along to electric customers.

Burgess officials are “really working on an incredibly viable plan to get off the subsidy addiction ... to make sure they are long-term sustainable,” Sununu said.

Burgess spokesman Sarah Boone said company officials met with the governor last week.

“We have a few ideas in the works which would help drive economic development in the North Country, while we continue to generate clean, renewable power, and we wanted to provide him with an informal update,” she said. “The concepts are very preliminary, and at this time, we are not ready to speak about them in detail.”

Meanwhile, Unitil executive Todd Black said he feared potential power blackouts this winter if the region sustains a long cold snap.

“It keeps us up at night,” he said, pointing out the region came within about three days of rolling blackouts last winter.

But ISO New England, which oversees the region’s power grid, recently said New England is expected “to have the necessary resources this winter to meet consumer demand.”

“Last winter demonstrated just how much the weather can impact power system operations, not just in terms of consumer demand for electricity, but in the ability of generators to access fuel,” Peter Brandien, ISO New England’s vice president for system operations, said in a statement.

Unitil spokesman Alec O’Meara said a two-week cold snap beginning last Dec. 26 strained resources.

“What happened at the time was the region had to start burning oil to keep up with the electrical demand because of the natural gas pipeline constraints, and there were challenges getting enough oil and gas into the region to keep up with both electric load and heating needs, O’Meara said.

At the summit put on by the state Business and Industry Association, Tom Sullivan, senior vice president of operations at Sturm, Ruger & Company, said his company pays around $2.5 million more in yearly energy costs for a plant in Newport compared with one in North Carolina.

“We have a lot of work to do in New Hampshire to bring down rates,” Sullivan said, saying “we love being” in the state.

“We could hire a lot of people for two-and-a-half million dollars,” Sullivan said.

Afterward, he estimated that could translate into approximately 40 new workers. The Newport location employs about 850 people.

Panel moderator Tony Giunta, Franklin’s mayor, said chief executives from some local companies have approached him about high electricity costs recently and through the years.

“I think what really sort of broke the camel’s back with them coming to me more and more so was the failure of Northern Pass to get an approval to move forward, and as it was explained to me by one of the CEOs it wasn’t necessarily that we were looking for Northern Pass to lower the rate of electricity substantially,” Giunta said. “What it was, it was a recognition that something was going to happen.”

State regulators unanimously rejected the the proposed $1.6 billion hydroelectric transmission line that would have run through more than 30 communities and brought hydro power from Canada into New England.

Eversource New Hampshire President Bill Quinlan said he thinks hydro power will become more important as more fossil-fuel plants get retired around New England.

mcousineau@unionleader.com