Energy myths and energy facts

Efficiency is still the easiest way to save money on electricity

Energy, and especially energy policy, always seems to be in the news. It had a prominent place in Governor Sununu’s inaugural address. The Business and Industry Association of New Hampshire continues to sound the alarm over losing New Hampshire businesses, or their expansions, to lower-cost states. BIA President Roche has frequently described the energy costs for the business community as a “crisis.”

Time out to consider some myths and some facts.

First, it is a myth that energy costs, meaning costs for electricity, are uniquely high in New Hampshire.  The fact is that New Hampshire does not have higher electricity costs than other states in New England. Anyone can check the app “ISO To Go” available from ISO-NE, the regional system operator. New Hampshire is always very close to our neighboring states.

The region does face higher energy costs than many other parts of the country, particularly the Southeast, which has long enjoyed the benefits of large supplies of low-cost hydropower thanks to the Tennessee Valley Authority, which is a public agency that does not have to pay federal taxes or dividends to shareholders.

Second is the belief that our main concern should be on lowering electric rates. This is largely a myth because no one pays electric rates. All of us, including our businesses, pay electric bills. Electric rates become a secondary concern if we pursue policies that reduce the amount of energy we need, so that bills are lower even if electric rates have not been reduced. For this reason, being solely concerned with electric rates is misplaced.

Third, it is a myth that New Hampshire, and in particular, the Legislature, can take action to cause meaningful reductions in electric rates. It is a fact that the biggest factor causing increasing costs in New Hampshire and the region is the massive investment underway for new high-voltage transmission projects. Public Utilities Commissioner Robert Scott reports that transmission costs have gone up by 374 percent over the last 11 years. These projects are all federally regulated, and in most cases actually mandated. Our PUC cannot disallow the costs of these federally regulated projects from inclusion in our rates.

But there is a lot we can do to help lower electricity costs. Specifically, we can strongly encourage and support the most abundant, cheapest and cleanest of all energy options: energy efficiency.

For example, our lighting needs can be met with super-efficient LED bulbs. When we hear about some of our valued businesses choosing to expand elsewhere, we can only hope those businesses have first availed themselves of achieving all cost-effective energy-efficiency measures in their operations.

For residential customers, we should assist in financing energy-efficiency measures so people can start saving costs by using less energy.

The PUC has led the way on this with its recent adoption of New Hampshire’s first energy-efficiency resource standard, which requires incumbent utilities to achieve designated levels of energy savings over the next several years. It is true that financing this requires a tiny increase in one component of our electric bills, the system benefits charge (next year only about 37 cents a month on a typical 650 kw bill), but the energy savings will benefit not only those undertaking efficiency upgrades, but eventually all customers because reductions in demand for electricity means less need for expensive new generating plants and transmission lines.

Another way to promote efficiency is through the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, which generates significant funds to invest in energy-efficiency projects.

The notorious Willie Sutton is purported to have said he robbed banks “because that’s where the money is.”  In energy, the real money to be saved is in using less of it so our bills are reduced even if electric rates are not. 

Rep. Bob Backus, D-Manchester, is a member of the House Science, Technology and Energy Committee.

Categories: Opinion