Northern Pass just isn’t worth it

How much would electric rates need to decrease to justify the construction of 192 miles of sky-high transmission towers and lines piercing the heart of our state, from Canada to Deerfield?      

Before you answer that, let’s first look at the three largest components of electric rates:

 • Distribution — the rate you pay for local wires, substations, transformers and the like to deliver electricity to your home or business

 • Transmission — the rate you pay for the cost of moving high-voltage electricity from a power generator to the distribution system

 • Energy — the rate you pay for power.

Now let’s look at an actual bill. Electric rates for a typical Eversource customer are about 18 cents per kilowatt-hour. My electric bill for March was $85.56, based on an electric rate of precisely 18.14 cents/kWh. The distribution rate was 4.2 cents/kWh, the transmission rate was 2.4 cents, and the energy rate was 11.2 cents.

If built, Northern Pass would only impact the energy component of our electric rates.

According to a report prepared by the economics and financial consulting firm The Brattle Group, and submitted to the Site Evaluation Committee on behalf of the Counsel for the Public, Northern Pass is unlikely to have a meaningful impact on electric rates.

Based on modeling of the four most plausible scenarios, The Brattle Group “found that Northern Pass could provide New Hampshire customers with retail rate savings between 0 and 0.28¢/kWh (in constant 2020 dollar terms) on average from 2020 to 2032.”

In The Brattle Group’s best-case plausible scenario concerning how Northern Pass will affect our energy prices, electric rates would decrease by 0.28 cents/kWh. That’s right — just 10 percent of 2.8 cents.

What does that mean for your bottom line? For me, it would have saved me a whopping $1.12 on my March bill and perhaps 13 dollars for the entire year.

Compare that to what I could save if I shopped around for a competitive energy supplier instead of relying on Eversource’s default energy service. I could lower my energy rate by about 3 cents/kWh, which would have shaved almost $12 off my March bill and over $140 for the year.

Twenty years ago, competition in energy generation was introduced to New Hampshire. PSNH and its parent company Northeast Utilities (both now rebranded as Eversource) fought competition tooth and nail. But the truth is, greater energy competition in New Hampshire and elsewhere in New England has made a meaningful difference and has lowered electric rates.

But wait, you say. Eversource and its allies tell us all of the time that we’re in an energy crisis and Northern Pass is a critical way to address it.

The truth is, a New England Council report last fall noted, “while the average residential electric bill [in New England] as a percentage of median income was above the U.S. average in 1996, by 2015, every New England state was at or below the U.S. average.”

Additionally, in January of this year, UNH’s Carsey School of Public Policy issued a report saying large-scale transmission projects like Northern Pass aren’t needed to bring down energy costs. The Carsey researchers found that New Hampshire businesses and residents “actually pay the same or less for electricity than in other parts of the country.”

While we can point to some good news overall on the electric rate front, it’s a completely different story for transmission — the part of our electric rates over which utilities such as Eversource still have monopoly control. In 10 years, the average transmission rate has tripled from 0.8 cents/kWh to 2.4 cents/kWh.

So take out your last electric bill, reduce the energy rate by 0.28 cents – that’s less than one penny – and recalculate. Then decide for yourself if that minuscule reduction is worth the damage that Northern Pass will do to our landscape, wetlands and tourism industry as it carves a gash through our forests and communities.

The truth? Northern Pass just isn’t worth it.

Judy Reardon is senior advisor to Protect the Granite State and former legal counsel to U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen.

Categories: Opinion