(Opinion) ‘All of the above’ efforts needed to lower NH energy prices
New Hampshire has some of the highest electricity prices in the U.S.
New Hampshire is a great place to run a business, but the cost of electricity here is not among the attractions.
The Granite State has some of the highest electricity prices in the nation. Its average of 21.09 cents per kilowatt hour far exceeds the national average of 12.49 cents and is lower than only Massachusetts (21.47), California (22.48) and Hawaii (39.85). Remove Hawaii due to its limitations as an island state, and New Hampshire is close to the worst in the nation. That must end for the state to continue to expand its economy and deliver greater prosperity for its residents.
Large energy users, such as manufacturers and corporate campuses, pay millions of dollars for energy, which saps money away from reinvestment in operations and staff. North Carolina, a booming region for business development, has an average of just 11.07 cents per kilowatt hour. New Hampshire’s risk of losing business is real, and it’s been worsened by energy prices soaring to record highs.
New Hampshire must utilize every tool in the toolbox to lower energy costs, and thankfully there are efforts to do that. A market-driven energy procurement process that prioritizes cost savings and reliability is an innovative way to increase in-state energy production to lower costs for ratepayers. Legislatively, there are two key bills that can help.
Senate Bill 54 is enabling legislation for utilities to issue market-driven requests for proposal in which there is competition for the lowest price, which can reduce costs for New Hampshire ratepayers and guard against regional volatility. SB 54, as amended, has bipartisan support and is the product of input from a variety of key stakeholders including Clean Energy NH, the public utilities, state Department of Energy, commercial and industry ratepayers, and more. The House is scheduled to vote on SB 54 at a later date.
Under SB 54, any new energy project could win based on price through a competitive procurement process. The bill would encourage production of new, clean, renewable and local sources that will deliver a multitude of benefits, including economic development, local tax revenue and environ mental improvements. Reducing ratepayer costs should be the primary intended outcome of this process, and BIA advocated for safeguards to help ensure that.
SB 79, supported by BIA, can also help.
Passed by the House earlier this month, SB 79 is a narrowly tailored net-metering expansion for customer-generators that are newly defined as industrial hosts. The bill serves as another tool for large end users to reduce energy use from the grid by generating their own local, renewable power. Guardrails in this bill ensure generation matches the needs of the business, and the businesses themselves consume most of the energy produced.
Unitil recently received Public Utilities Commission approval to build what it says will be the largest solar array in New Hampshire. Unitil plans to begin building the array in Kingston this year, and says it will generate 4.88 megawatts of renewable energy to help reduce consumer costs.
While utilities aren’t allowed to own power-generating facilities in New Hampshire, state law provides exceptions for small local resources, which allow utilities to own generation facilities that produce up to 6 percent of the power needed during peak demand hours when costs are highest.
A new project to deliver Canadian hydropower to New England is in the initial stages of seeking approval. The 211-mile transmission line through Vermont and New Hampshire is being considered by the U.S. Department of Energy for federal funding.
The Twin States Clean Energy Link would bring 1,200 megawatts — enough to power nearly 1 million homes. The proposed line would use mostly existing transmission corridors and infrastructure in New Hampshire with some new, buried lines. While smaller, local generation projects are great, it takes a lot of them to equal 1,200 megawatts. Projects of this size can significantly improve our region’s fuel diversity, a critical issue to stabilize prices and lessen volatility.
All six New England states rank in the bottom 10 for average electricity prices. It will require an “all of the above” approach that utilizes every tool and strategy, big or small, to sustainably fix this problem, and it’s critical that progress continues.
Michael Skelton is president and CEO of the Business & Industry Association.