Playing politics stymies clean energy progress

There is strong bipartisan support to make investments in an industry that is key to a post-pandemic economy

Shifting New Hampshire’s energy use to clean, local and renewable sources represents a tremendous opportunity for economic stimulus and good job creation. Reducing fossil fuel emissions will also conserve our treasured natural resources and benefit public health.

So what are we waiting for? Here we are at the end of another legislative session having the same arguments about the same policies and watching the vetoes pile up. It’s time our leaders got to work putting into action real policy solutions that rise to the challenge and put New Hampshire on a path to using locally produced clean energy efficiently.

Governor Sununu’s message for the latest clean energy bill veto, Senate Bill 124, vilifies the solar industry. Attacking a growing business sector that is creating well-paying jobs for trades and professionals is not an effective strategy to attract more investment in our local economy.

SB 124 would have instated an ambitious but achievable renewable energy goal increase to just over 50% by 2040. All renewable technologies would be drawn upon to meet this goal, not just solar.

These goals are implemented in our Renewable Portfolio Standard, or RPS. An approach also used by 29 other states and our state’s renewable energy goals lag far behind our New England neighbors.

The RPS is New Hampshire’s only law that sets clear renewable energy usage goals. This policy currently requires 25.2% of New Hampshire’s electricity to come from renewable sources by the year 2025 and represents a very small fraction of a ratepayer’s monthly bill (average $0.0023/kWh), yet it provides tremendous economic and environmental benefits for New Hampshire. The RPS also funds the renewable energy fund which makes investments that leverage private capital 6-1.

If we increase our goals for solar development, will solar panels cover up “3 times the size of Lake Sunapee,” as Sununu’s veto message states? Well, a lot of those solar panels would be on roofs and a lot of small residential roofs can add up to a big area in aggregate.

There are also several barely visible large roof-mounted solar arrays in New Hampshire, like the ones on Dover High School, Worthen Industries in Nashua, or Filtrine in Keene. Some will be over parking lots, like the installation at the Comcast office in Manchester. Yes, some solar installations will be in fields or cleared forestland. This is still very low-impact use for the land because it allows vegetation to grow below the panels and water to infiltrate into the soil. It even allows dual uses like active agriculture to co-exist with solar development.

Sununu’s veto message also claims that ratepayers are burdened by some of the highest energy bills in the nation. While rates may be high, our bills are actually pretty average because how much energy you use matters and bills are what customers actually pay. New Hampshire is the only state in New England that has projected increasing peak demand because our neighbors are doing much more to encourage energy efficiency and small-scale renewable generation.

Finally, if there are “fundamentally better ways to reduce emissions” than an RPS, then let’s get to work on some serious bipartisan policies that are right for New Hampshire. Both sides have played politics, one passing on an opportunity to make some progress on net metering this session and the other that resorts to the veto pen without proposing any comprehensive alternatives.

Recent surveys show there is strong bipartisan support in agreement that making investments in clean energy are important to our nation’s effort to rebuild our post-pandemic economy. The bipartisan support is there, but we need to actually talk to each other to make progress. Clean Energy NH and its members are eager to advance creative energy policies in New Hampshire and enable this sector to be a cornerstone of our economic recovery.

Madeleine Mineau is executive director of Clean Energy NH in Concord.

Categories: Opinion