A New State Energy Strategy
By Kate Epsen
One year ago, the New Hampshire State Legislature passed Senate Bill 99, which directed the state to create a ten- year energy strategy. Championed by Governor Maggie Hassan and many state legislators as a critical step toward NH’s innovation economy and energy future, this strategy—well-underway since the beginning of 2014—will set the tone for future policies, regulation, and private sector activity.
Unlike many of our neighbors, NH currently does not have a comprehensive plan or clear goals on energy use, production, or conservation. While we have many programs in place, such as a Renewable Portfolio Standard, utility-run efficiency incentive programs, and the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, to name a few, NH lacks clear direction on energy policy. One might ask, why does NH need an energy strategy? Clear goals supported by a workable and effective strategy, many argue, is necessary because NH currently exports nearly $4 billion annually on energy costs, mainly for fossil fuels. That represents about 7% of the state’s GDP. In addition to this outflow of wealth, NH is not prepared for the energy changes that are already happening elsewhere, and is therefore missing profound economic and environmental opportunities.
In neighboring states, energy efficiency is being considered as a lowest-cost, first-tier resource; utility revenue models are changing to empower consumers, keep our grid reliable, while keeping utility finances sound; aggressive goals for renewable energy production are set and acted upon; and, leadership is strong. We see that jobs are flowing to those states with stable policies and innovative financing opportunities; we see businesses that are retaining workers and adding new positions through controlled and reduced operational costs, of which energy use is a significant percentage; and, we see that individuals can better access programs and loans to weatherize their homes.
This is why New Hampshire needs strategy that looks decisively to the future and keeps our state competitive by removing market barriers to clean energy investments and the economic wealth generated by this sector, directly and indirectly. Retention of wealth by the reduction in importation of fossil fuels for electricity, heating, and transportation would have multiple economic, environmental and societal benefits, including greater disposable income, economic development and new job growth, and a reduction in the consumption of carbon-intensive fuels, with the associated environmental and climate benefits. So how do we do this, both practically and strategically, given limited public resources and absent clear legislative or executive goals?
The draft strategy, released this month (publicly available on www.nh.gov/oep) begins to answer that question. The draft provides plentiful baseline information on what types of energy we use now, in which sectors, and what the associated costs are. The draft also reveals the enormous economic and technical potential that NH has for the development of renewable resources, biomass use for heating, electric vehicle infrastructure, and perhaps most important, the vast potential for energy efficiency and conservation.
In terms of strategies, the draft offers a laundry list of options on how to reach those potentials, including how to deploy greater private capital through smarter leveraging of limited public resources, setting a state Energy Efficiency Resource Standard (NH is currently the only New England state without one), and adopting vehicle fuel standards that will help drive modern electric or compressed-gas vehicle infrastructure, just to name a few. As a draft, there is still much work to be done; it remains silent on important topics such as rail transit, both freight and passenger, and recommends many areas to “explore,” and “investigate,” rather than do. This strategy needs to be workable and practical, with clear measurable goals, and must inspire leadership to direct a transition to clean, local, and less volatile energy resources.
As a resident of NH, a local leader, a business owner, or a student, one can participate and influence the final strategy in many simple and direct ways. Our public officials want to hear from you. Throughout June, the Office of Energy and Planning (OEP) will be hosting several public meetings around the state, with dates and locations for those meetings posted on www.nhsea.org. Additionally, you can submit written comments directly to OEP from now until July 25th. The final version is due on September 1st of this year. And that is when the real action begins.
Kate Epsen is the Executive Director of the NH Sustainable Energy Association and member of NH’s Local Energy Work Group.