HARTFORD COURANT: Gas Supply Vital To State’s Manufacturing As originally appearing in The Hartford Courant
By GARY GREENBERG
Often when commentators talk about our economy, they focus on innovative sectors like technology and life sciences, and more traditional businesses such as insurance and financial services. But manufacturing right here in Connecticut shouldn’t be overlooked.
Manufacturing has its roots in New England and continues to play a significant role in providing good jobs and wages to employees throughout our state. A recent report issued by The New England Council, “Advanced to Advantageous: The Case for New England’s Manufacturing Revolution,” highlights both the resiliency and the great economic opportunity that advanced manufacturing offers to our economy.
Our company, Birken Manufacturing, specializes in jet engine components. We employ more than 110 people. Our workers are highly trained and skilled and we provide competitive wages and benefits. Companies like ours play an important role in the state’s economy and we will continue to do so.
That said, the road ahead does have challenges for us. Among our challenges is the high cost of energy in New England. Fortunately, this is an issue that can be addressed.
We understand that lowering the costs of doing business in Connecticut is not only a responsibility of state government, but also the duty of each individual company. There are opportunities out there that will assist us in lowering costs if we take advantage of these very innovative programs. As an example, Birken has embarked on a Comprehensive Energy Project through the Connecticut Energy Efficiency Fund made available by Eversource (formerly Connecticut Light & Power). Through this project we will lower our power costs, switch from oil to natural gas for heating and provide better lighting for our employees. Eversource will rebate approximately 25 percent of our total cost at the project’s completion. Our investment will be recouped by annual utility savings within five years.
However, we alone can only do so much. We need a partnership with the state government going forward. Increased use of affordable, cleaner-burning natural gas is central to Connecticut’s 2013 Comprehensive Energy Strategy, which outlines a plan for addressing the shifting energy landscape through the year 2050. That strategic plan includes a seven-year effort to expand access to natural gas across Connecticut with a goal of providing nearly 300,000 Connecticut homes, businesses and other facilities with a natural gas option that they currently cannot obtain. The key to this strategy is assuring that affordable natural gas is available in our state.
The good news is that just a few hundred miles away sits one of the world’s largest known supplies of natural gas — Pennsylvania’s Marcellus shale gas formation. The challenge is building the pipeline needed to bring this gas to our state. Pipeline siting, approval and construction can take years, but we are fortunate that we have pipeline projects, such as the Constitution Pipeline proposal in New York, that are well along in the approval process. The Constitution Pipeline has received its Federal Energy Regulatory Commission approval and has secured the vast majority of its right of way. It is awaiting final approval from the state of New York. With sign-off from New York, the privately financed Constitution Pipeline could be up and running within a year.
Reducing energy costs is critical to assuring a robust and growing manufacturing sector. Jobs that pay well, provide benefits and a good economic future for workers and their families can be secured if our leaders have the political will to support expanding our pipeline capacity. Moving companies out of the state is not the answer. Our skilled workforce may not follow. Our roots in know-how and technical capability should not be short-changed. There is a clear path for us to partner with our government to keep our state competitive.
Access to Pennsylvania’s natural gas will limit our reliance on foreign, more expensive sources, will provide a clean source of energy to Connecticut and will bolster and protect our state’s manufacturing businesses. We need to make sure that Pennsylvania’s natural gas supply can make its way to New England. Businesses and families are depending on it.
Gary Greenberg is the president of Birken Manufacturing in Bloomfield.
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