The state's low-cost electricity program is a powerful incentive keeping businesses in New York State when other places try to woo them with tax breaks and low employee salaries, officials said Tuesday.

That was the case for Autronic Plastics Inc., known as API, a manufacturer of lighting, athletic mouth guards, DVD cases, exit signs and other plastic products. Three years ago the company decided to expand at a new plant in Central Islip rather than move to North Carolina.

An allocation of 436 kilowatts of low-cost electricity from the New York Power Authority was a key factor, chief executive Michael Lax said. "The fact that we get cheap power is a huge thing economically; it helps us to compete globally," he said Tuesday during a tour of the company's 100,000-square-foot factory.

Lax said the low-cost electricity reduces API's utility bills each year by about 25 percent, or $80,000 to $100,000.

In return, API has invested $12 million in combining its Westbury and Asheville, North Carolina, operations at the Central Islip facility. The company also pledged to keep its LI workforce of 85 people over seven years and to hire an additional 21 workers.

API is among 149 businesses, hospitals and nonprofit organizations that receive cheap electricity under ReCharge NY. Locally, the largest recipients are the information technology company mindSHIFT in Commack and the North Shore-Long Island Jewish Health System in Manhasset. Nearly 60,200 local jobs are tied to the program.

"We want to help businesses to be more efficient and to expand here in New York State," said Gil C. Quiniones, the authority's chief executive. "We still have power that we are looking to allocate. . . . But we don't want free-riders. We want people who really need it."

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Of the 910 megawatts in ReCharge, about 133 megawatts have yet to be allocated. One megawatt is enough to meet the needs of 800 to 1,000 homes.

Businesses seeking low-cost electricity must submit an application; priority is given to those wishing to expand and those considering a move out of state or a reduction in their workforces, Quiniones said.

API also received $1.8 million in tax breaks from Empire State Development, the state's primary business-aid agency, and the Suffolk County Industrial Development Agency. It also won a $307,000 grant from the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority for work on lighting systems for construction sites.

Quiniones said the power authority has purchased API's energy-efficient LED lighting for use in the New York City subway system and Metro North commuter rail line.