Northern Pass or another path?
What New Hampshire can learn from Mass. and Vermont about renewable energy
For nearly a decade, the debate over energy in New Hampshire has centered on Northern Pass. Whether you support or oppose the 1,100-megawatt, 192-mile transmission project to bring hydropower from Quebec, the recent unanimous ruling by the state Site Evaluation Committee brings the contentious issue to a close. Barring a reversal at the SEC or an abrupt injunction by the New Hampshire Supreme Court, Northern Pass is dead.
As Granite Staters battled over one divisive energy project from abroad, our neighbors to the south and west let some 350,000 local solar projects bloom. The effects in terms of energy produced and jobs created in Massachusetts and Vermont stand in stark contrast to New Hampshire’s present path. More importantly, they light the way to a brighter energy future for the Granite State, marked by lower costs and homegrown energy independence.
Consider the economic and environmental gains made by neighboring states — both with equivalent landmass and solar potential to New Hampshire — while policymakers in Concord were locked in a costly debate over Northern Pass.
In Massachusetts, policies designed to encourage home-grown clean power generation and reduce electricity costs have resulted in 1,898 MW of solar on rooftops and once-unproductive land as of 2017 — 73 percent more installed capacity than Northern Pass. Thanks to a forward-thinking and consistent Renewable Portfolio Standard, maintained by both Democratic and Republican administrations, Massachusetts now ranks sixth in the nation in terms of installed solar capacity.
Even more remarkable, Massachusetts ranks second after California in terms of solar jobs, with over 500 solar companies employing some 14,582 workers from marketers and managers to electricians and engineers. Already 311,922 Bay State homes are powered with solar — 30 times the New Hampshire count — and the number is set to double in the next five years as the state adds an additional 1,834 MW of installed capacity.
Thanks in part to solar, residential electricity rates are lower in Massachusetts than New Hampshire while commercial rates are on par.
Meanwhile, Vermont recently joined California, Nevada and Hawaii as one of only four states with over 10 percent of total electricity generated by solar (Massachusetts is at 7.42 percent and New Hampshire at 0.46 percent). The Green Mountain State has seen a clean energy industry boom with over $472 million in total solar investments in recent years. The investments have produced 1,767 local private-sector jobs and 204 MW of installed solar capacity — 22 times higher, as a percentage of electricity generation, than New Hampshire. Not surprisingly, Vermont families and businesses enjoy lower rates of electricity than their counterparts in New Hampshire.
The lesson for New Hampshire’s leaders is clear: if we want a secure, predictable path to meeting our 21st century energy needs while adding jobs, containing costs, and protecting our environment, the answer does not lie in massive energy imports from abroad but in clean renewable generation at home.
There are at least three simple steps lawmakers in Concord can take this year to move New Hampshire forward. First, the state should lift the artificial 1 MW solar net metering cap and allow cities and towns to put capped landfills and other polluted public lands back into use for clean power (and revenue) generation by passing the bipartisan Senate Bill 446. Second, the state should update group net metering guidelines under another bipartisan bill, SB 321, so solar customer-generators can efficiently offset multiple meters while maintaining competitive energy supply. Third, lawmakers should protect and raise the Renewable Portfolio Standard from its measly 0.7 percent solar requirement in order to send a clear signal to the clean energy industry that New Hampshire is open for business.
Dan Weeks, director of market development at ReVision Energy, is chair of the Nashua Environment and Energy Committee.