Jul 10, 2015 8:02 PM

NextGen Climate founder travels from California to raise political and economic awareness about clean energy


NEWFIELDS - Under the scorching summer sun Friday, philanthropist and investor Tom Steyer said clean energy is an economic issue at Squamscot Beverages in Newfields.

"There are eight times more jobs in solar than there are in fossil fuels," Steyer said, noting the pay and benefits associated with the solar industry.

He was also quick to point out the cost-savings homeowners and businesses see when they switch to solar power. And he said equipment and installation costs, which were once prohibitive for families, have dropped by 80 percent.

Steyer was in New Hampshire to talk about clean energy, including geothermal and wind power, on the same week that the Obama administration announced an initiative to help low- and middle-income families gain access to solar energy. The administration intends to add more renewable energy systems in federally-subsidized housing, make it easier for homeowners to borrow money for solar equipment and help renters gain access to solar energy.

But Steyer said clean energy needs to be more than a Democratic issue. Democrats put the environment before other issues when choosing candidates, he said, but it is time to challenge Republicans to come up with a strategy for saving the Earth.

"We need you in New Hampshire to have them outline their specific plans," Steyer said.

Joining the NextGen Climate founder and president were over a dozen participants, including Democratic State Sen. Martha Fuller Clark of Portsmouth. She said there is a 10-year energy strategy in New Hampshire.

"There is an enormous potential for solar in New Hampshire," Fuller Clark added.

Jim Dreher, owner of Durham Boat Company, said his company saves $7,000 a year by using solar energy. Local consumer Lester Cuff used state and federal initiatives to add solar panels at his house, and his electric bill has dropped by $1,000 a year.

The energy savings Cuff has seen is impressive. He said he has saved enough energy to light a football stadium the size of Gillette Stadium for one day, or the Eiffel Tower for nine nights.

Melissa Aho, who owns Ultra Geothermal in Barrington, said she has solar panels at home, but geothermal is the way to go because consumers see a 75 percent faster payback on their investment. Another man emphasized the potential of off-shore wind turbines.

Steyer wrapped up the roundtable by saying millions of dollars are going to be spent by 2016 candidates, and he hopes New Hampshire residents hold them accountable for taking part in the national ongoing conversation about the environment.

When asked specifically why he travelled all the way from California to spread his message, Steyer responded by saying New Hampshire has an unfair advantage when it comes to getting the ear of presidential candidates, later adding that politicians only travel to California "for money."

When asked what sparked his passion for the environment, Steyer said, "I just wanted to be part of a group of people that was working hard, to make sure that on the issue that was going to define us for the future, and was going to define us for our children and grandchildren, that I was one of the people that got to contribute."

NextGen Climate is a 501(c)(4) organization. NextGen Climate Action Committee is a political action committee.

Follow Kimberley Haas on Twitter @KHaasNH1.


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