The many challenges to powering your N.H. business

There is much that companies and institutions can do meet their individual energy needs


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Energy use has been a defining issue of the past 40 years. Fluctuations in price and availability have a significant effect on the health of the economy and the profitability of individual companies and institutions. Businesses and institutions need reliable access to stable, affordable sources of energy. The unpredictability of long-term reliability and price stability are a common source of worry for corporate and institutional leaders who have to manage their energy supplies.

All of these issues impact New Hampshire businesses and institutions, and in many ways they are at greater risk than those in other parts of the country. This is partly the function of geography. We are far away from the sources of the most abundant types of fossil fuels, and even though the discovery of natural gas in the Marcellus Shale has brought energy closer to our borders, it is still hundreds of miles away, requiring significant capital investment for pipeline infrastructure.

At the same time, our access to renewable energy is relatively limited. While we can purchase hydroelectric power, it typically has to be transported from Quebec, which is no small distance. Also, while there is a lot of interest in renewables, New Hampshire’s renewable energy industry is still relatively undeveloped, and we lag behind our New England neighbors and New York.

Geography also works against New Hampshire companies and institutions because of the wide fluctuations we experience in weather. During cold winter months, they often burn more energy for heat. Severe weather can also wreak havoc with energy supplies, causing blackouts and service interruptions. In the summer, extreme temperatures can also drive a need for more energy to power air conditioning.

But our energy challenges don’t revolve solely around location. New Hampshire’s state government lags far behind our neighbors in supporting the development of renewables and industries to produce those renewables. Unfortunately, government oversight in New Hampshire is slowing down local adoption of solar and other renewables.

For instance, the price the state has set for reselling solar energy is so low that it doesn’t make sense for utilities to invest in the equipment and infrastructure that’s necessary to produce solar energy. The state also has traditionally opposed hydro, which leaves New Hampshire businesses and institutions reliant on imports.

The result is sufficient uncertainty to hinder the development of a vibrant renewable energy program in the state.

Eventually, New Hampshire will get a handle on renewables. There are just too many factors pointing us in that direction. Our relative isolation from traditional energy sources has influenced, and will continue to influence, the push towards local energy production. Additionally, the abundance of natural resources in the state will help to foster the maturity of our fledgling solar, wind, geothermal, and perhaps even wave power industries.

What can be done?

In the meantime, what can companies and institutions do to gain access to more affordable and reliable energy? This is a particularly challenging issue for manufacturers and colleges and universities, which have enormous energy needs and can’t afford even brief service interruptions.

A solution can often be found by creating their own independent energy districts, which are mini-power plants, located on an industrial or educational campus, that provide an affordable and reliable supply of energy. The plants could opt for liquefied natural gas, compressed natural gas or propane and save thousands of dollars a year by permitting a switch from oil and/or utility-provided electricity. And because the power is produced right there on campus, it is not susceptible to utility service interruptions.

Another potential solution is already being explored by local companies -- geothermal geothermal technologies, which allow companies to tap into water 50 or 60 feet underground. The temperature of water found at that depth generally runs around 50 degrees, which makes it perfect for running heating systems in the winter and cooling in the summer. The efficiency of geothermal technologies can cut heating and cooling costs by 30 to 40 percent.

Universities like UNH are already showing the way when it comes to waste-to-energy technology. The Durham campus’ EcoLine project, which earned the Environmental Protection Agency’s Project Of The Year Award in 2010, uses purified methane gas from a landfill in Rochester to provide up to 85 percent of campus power.

Waste-to-energy is a particularly attractive approach for creating power in New Hampshire. New Hampshire boasts the types of businesses -- breweries, yogurt makers and agricultural businesses, to name a few -- that make best use of the anaerobic digestion technologies that can create energy from waste. This is the type of renewable energy that the state should be fostering and that private businesses should explore.

Finally, many municipalities could benefit from banding together to create regional public or semi-public energy-producing organizations. Partnering with neighbors spreads the cost of creating necessary infrastructure and managing power plants, while producing the energy that’s needed in those communities.

Mike Nicoloro, senior vice president at Sanborn, Head & Associates in Concord, can be reached at mnicoloro@sanbornhead.com. Joan Fontaine, vice president at the firm, can be reached at jfontaine@sanbornhead.com.

 

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