We must strengthen, expand N.H.’s clean tech sector

The technology is here already – we simply have to put it to work for the economy

As a New Hampshire small business owner with 40 years of experience in the construction industry, I have watched with great concern as our state’s economy has stagnated and lost the ability to attract and retain young people with good-paying jobs. Our state is falling further and further behind and our elected officials and business community must act quickly if we hope to reverse this trend.

Much has been written recently about possible solutions to the challenges our economy faces. One solution is that New Hampshire can grow its economy by lowering our energy costs and securing our energy future. I wholeheartedly agree, which is why I support strengthening and expanding New Hampshire’s clean tech sector.

We have allowed energy policy debate to be co-opted by political parties, which is a huge mistake. Most consumers simply don’t see that big special interests, including big corporate interests, sit on both sides of the rhetoric over fossil fueled energy vs. renewable energy, when actually an “all of the above” national energy policy is the only one that makes sense for both the short and long term.

Also lost in that debate is both the realization and articulation that we can economically create millions of ”negawatt” hours through greater energy-efficiency measures. A kilowatt or British thermal unit (BTU) saved through efficiency is just as valuable as a kilowatt or BTU produced.

A recent independent economic study released by the New Hampshire Clean Tech Council shows that the New Hampshire clean tech sector accounts for a significant and growing share of New Hampshire’s economy, with substantial growth potential in the near future.

According to the report, there are now an estimated 15,000 to 20,000 New Hampshire workers employed by the clean tech industry. The average annual wage in a clean tech-associated job is about 50 percent higher than the state average annual wage, and clean tech industries have 150 percent greater economic output than non clean tech-associated industries.

In addition, clean tech energy is the only energy that we citizens of New Hampshire have any direct control over in New Hampshire. 

Why pay higher prices for energy from entities outside of New Hampshire if we can create cheaper, more reliable forms inside our own state? After this past winter, wouldn’t most of us want to purchase less energy, and at a lower cost, in the future?

Currently, New Hampshire spends about 10.4 cents on energy to produce $1 of gross state product. This is much less economically efficient than the U.S. as a whole, which spends only 9.9 cents to produce $1 of GDP.

If we are going to grow our economy and lower our energy costs by strengthening our clean tech sector, elected officials must both understand and support policies that focus on innovation and leveraging both New Hampshire’s intellectual capital and financial capital.

We must ensure policy stability to better leverage our participation in the current Renewable Portfolio Standard and the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative. These policies help enable new, diverse energy supplies, reduce demand, create jobs and create funding streams that, when well-managed, can leverage significant private dollars.

We must also maintain a clear, consistent and reasonable energy siting process and strengthen our state’s new group net metering law.

Too much of the debate around these programs is mired in partisan politics, tied together with special interest strings and articulated by some people who believe that if you are installing photovoltaic panels you must like Al Gore — not true! 

Businesses in New Hampshire, large and small, can lead by example by investing in projects that control on-site operational costs. Combining solar electric energy with solar thermal or geothermal or air source heat pumps can minimize or even eliminate oil and gas usage one project at a time. Insulating buildings and replacing outdated and inefficient heating and cooling systems can create both physical space and yield operational savings that allow businesses to better compete in a global economy, and then add more jobs right here in New Hampshire.

Using our limited RPS and RGGI dollars in more innovative and sustainable ways will help make these capital investments more possible. Capital investment drives the U.S. economy, and we can either choose to be part of it, or we can watch folks from outside New Hampshire do it with little direct benefit to us.

Harold Turner, president/CEO at The HL Turner Group Inc., Concord, is a member of the board of directors of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

Categories: Opinion