States around are increasingly recognizing that aggressive, forward-looking energy policies create the opportunity to simultaneously protect our environment, reduce electric bills for residents and businesses, and create quality local jobs. If we are going to get younger as a state, and develop a more dynamic, entrepreneurial economy, we must be a national leader on energy policy.
In terms of energy policy, there are four primary questions to answer:
1) How can we maximize energy conservation? The cheapest unit of energy is the one that is not used, and as a small state in a regional power pool (only about 10% of energy consumption in New England comes from New Hampshire), we have limited ability to impact the amount or composition of our energy mix in the region. We have much greater ability to impact our demand for electricity, by improving energy efficiency. It’s the easiest way to lower energy costs for residents and businesses.
2) How do we maximize renewable energy, particularly NH-centric renewables? This question deals with several priorities. First, the more we develop domestic energy capacity, the less vulnerable residents and businesses will be to regional or global markets. Second, the positive impacts on the environment are considerable. Less than 20% of our electricity comes from renewables, meaning we have a high ceiling for a “cleaner” mix. Finally, renewables like biomass, solar, and wind tend to keep dollars in the local economy.
3) How can we diversify our sources of energy? This protects our residents and businesses from price shocks that occur if we are overreliant on any one energy source. It can also play a role in encouraging entrepreneurship in more nascent energy-related industries here in New Hampshire (such as battery or solar panel technology).
4) How do we provide relief for ratepayers, be they residential or commercial? Having some of America’s highest energy costs are obviously a drag in attracting and retaining energy-intense businesses to New Hampshire. High energy costs also take a disproportionate bite out of lower-income residents.
With leadership mindful of these four questions, we will show that “picking” between economic growth, economic justice, ratepayer benefit, and environmental protection is a false choice. We will define a future that shows you can achieve all these goals at once - if we are willing to lead.
1) Set a new Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) goal of 50% by 2030. If New Hampshire is going to be a leader on energy policy, and enjoy the economic and environmental benefits that come along with it, public policy must send a long-term, stable, and clear message to the private sector that investments in infrastructure, renewable generation, and energy efficiency will be economically beneficial. This new timeline and goal will have the effect of rewarding investments in solar, wind, biomass, storage technology, and energy efficiency; it will increase demand for such investments; it will lower peak demand; it will accelerate job creation in this dynamic part of the national economy; and it will meaningfully lower electric bills over the next 10-15 years. All of our neighbors are on track to reach between 50% and 58% during the 2030s. If we are going to be the party of the future, we must see where energy policy is clearly going, and lead in that direction.
2) Modernize our electric grid to lower energy costs, and maximize the use of local renewables. One of the challenges most renewables face is that, compared to nuclear or natural gas, they are intermittent. They have high peaks, but low valleys, and we are not able to store the electricity in a way that would allow them to be used efficiently in our current, antiquated electric grid. This makes it difficult for solar or wind to plug into the grid, and sunny or windy days produce significant electricity that goes unused. Improving our grid is arguably the best investment we can make to accelerate the economics and use of small-scale renewables here in New Hampshire. We have plenty of capacity without new large-scale supply like if we modernize our technology. We can use market incentives to smooth out peak demand, cutting electric rates 15% or more. And we can encourage energy-related entrepreneurs to see New Hampshire as a leading state to start a business, or invest in R&D.
3) Focus on strategies which encourage homegrown, sustainable energy. Only about 20% of New Hampshire’s energy comes from renewable sources, highlighting the enormous opportunity for growth. On solar, Gov. Sununu’s veto of SB446, which would expand NH’s net metering program, is an example of old thinking: Solar makes up one-half one percent of New Hampshire’s electricity; in Massachusetts and Vermont, it is approaching 10%. We should eliminate the cap on net metering. On off-shore wind, New Hampshire has been the only state on the east coast that has not requested a task force from the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management to study off-shore wind viability. This appears to be changing, finally. On biomass, Gov. Sununu opposed legislation that would help protect and expand opportunities for biomass plants. Not only does this threaten hundreds of jobs in our state, but it will reduce our home-grown capacity, and slow down our weaning off of gas. Done as part of responsible long-term forest management, the use of low-grade wood for biomass can provide positive environmental impact. In all these cases, the future of entrepreneurship, innovation, and a broad base of local, diverse, and sustainable energy requires proactive, forceful leadership.
4) Increase funding, awareness, and accessibility to energy efficiency programs. New Hampshire has several programs designed to encourage residents and businesses to invest in energy efficiency. Two of those programs are targeted primarily for lower-income residents, but are limited. An additional program has no income guidelines, but typically involves the homeowner paying 50% of the cost of the efficiency work done. For lower-income residents, this remains elusive, however, as even half the cost of a meaningful project could be thousands of dollars. This unintentionally widens the gap between the “haves” and “have nots” – those with liquidity get to lower their energy costs, while those without liquidity are unable to do so. New Hampshire is in the minority of states that do not provide any general fund dollars toward consumer energy efficiency programs, and I believe accelerating such projects is among the smartest ways to lower energy use and costs. It’s good for the environment, good for our economy, good for reducing energy costs, and good for chipping away at one of America’s greatest threats – widening wealth inequality. A more aggressive goal in our Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) to 50% by 2030 would likely lead to additional Alternative Compliance Payments in the short-term, which could be used to increase funding for energy efficiency programs. Increasing the percentage of RGGI funds used for such initiatives would also be smart long-term policy.