New Hampshire can’t ignore the clean energy opportunity

The formula is simple: create policies that drive the market toward low-risk, reasonable-return investments

Lately, I hear many concerns about the future of New Hampshire. As often as I hear those concerns focused on rising energy costs, I hear them focused on our state corporate tax structure, the lack of a skilled workforce and the trend showing that our population is significantly aging. As an entrepreneur in the clean-energy sector, I see the opportunities to overcome these challenges.

A challenge is not a crisis. Higher energy prices are a serious challenge for businesses and homeowners; volatility in those prices is an even greater one. Fossil fuel prices are volatile, in both directions. Just look at the recent price drop in gasoline. The “fuel” used by renewable energy is free once the system that uses it is built.

Conventionally fueled power plants also have major capital costs for construction, and generally speaking, higher operation and maintenance costs. Then there is energy efficiency, which eliminates the need to use a portion of energy for the same output.

New Hampshire has indeed always had higher than U.S.-average energy costs. This isn’t surprising, given that New England has no indigenous fossil fuel resources and given that we are located at the end of the natural gas pipeline. What is surprising is the reluctance we have shown toward the new economic development, wealth retention and improved public health opportunities that lie in pursuing renewable energy, energy efficiency and grid modernization opportunities.

We have many opportunities before us to reduce volatility and costs while improving our state – dismissing these solutions in favor of the status quo does not serve us well.

Economic growth from a vibrant clean energy sector need not be a zero-sum game: We need better diversity in our generation mix, including distributed resources and storage. The U.S. military knows this, major corporations know this and small businesses know this. They are all investing in advanced energy technologies – LED lighting, heat pumps, solar and micro-grids. These technologies save money, promote new economic growth and attract young people to the promise of interesting and valuable work.

I see dramatic economic growth stemming from the clean energy sector in states across the U.S., from neighboring Massachusetts and Vermont, to North Carolina. While these states are dramatically different in many respects, they are similar in their efforts to create a positive investment environment for the clean energy sector to flourish without creating tax or rate burdens to consumers.

The formula is simple: create policies that drive the market toward low-risk, reasonable-return investment opportunities. Historically, this has been done primarily for fossil-fuel-based energy and the infrastructure to support it. Now is the time to expand that formula to investments in advanced energy technologies.

We can do this at the Public Utilities Commission with innovative rate designs, we can do it in the Legislature by setting a concrete energy-efficiency resource goal and we can do it in our towns by enacting revenue-neutral energy property-tax exemptions.

If we continue on a path that ignores the value of clean energy in favor of the status quo, the conditions we see now may worsen. New Hampshire has a great opportunity before it – we must implement an all-inclusive strategy to build an energy portfolio that creates jobs desired by skilled workers and professionals, saves money, controls volatility, increases security and generates new or retained wealth. I will do my part – will you do yours?

Jeff Haydock, founder and CEO of Portsmouth-based ecoCFO, is a member of the New Hampshire Clean Tech Council.

Categories: Opinion