State’s energy strategy is a useful road map but requires accountability

There must be quantitative means to measure success toward its vision

Raise your hand if you knew that New Hampshire has a ten-year state energy strategy…

If your hand is still on your lap, you are not alone. In 2013, a bipartisan bill (SB 191) passed the Legislature to create a state energy strategy. The bill set up an advisory council, which oversaw the creation of the strategy and approved the final version, produced by the Office of Energy and Planning with additional support from consultants and public input. This was a big effort, though it is always difficult to reach everyone using scant public resources.

So what IS our state’s energy strategy?

In short, our state’s energy strategy is a collection of recommendations, which, if implemented, will yield a future (2025) that offers consumers more energy choices at affordable prices, greater amounts of clean energy powering our homes and businesses, greater private investment leveraged toward energy infrastructure, and more retained dollars in our state’s economy as a percentage of spending.

Here is a brief refresher of four broad categories prioritized to achieve this outcome, each of which include many recommendations:

1.     The electric grid of the future. In order to keep our grid reliable, affordable and able to accommodate the increasing trend toward de-centralizing our power system, New Hampshire must modernize both our grid and the utilities that own and operate that grid.

2.     Increased investments in cost-effective energy efficiency. In our regional energy system, New Hampshire is losing ground to its neighbors on reducing our energy use and thereby reducing our share of costs. New Hampshire can saved hundreds of millions of dollars by investing in the cheapest form of energy: efficiency, conservation and demand reduction.

3.     Fuel diversity and choice. The Granite State contains no indigenous fossil fuels, and is therefore subject to outside market forces for these fuels. Also, in a time of growing reliance on natural gas to generate electricity, New Hampshire can better invest in state-based renewable fuels to hedge against supply disruptions, volatility, constraints and other issues that arise from such dependencies and imbalances.

4.     Increased transportation options. The state’s transportation sector accounts for 35 percent of our energy use and 46 percent of our energy expenditures, so reducing these figures through expanded options like mass transit, electric vehicles and infrastructure is critical to our economy and to the well-being of our citizens.

In addition to a very comprehensive suite of recommendations, the state energy strategy provides excellent baseline energy information and data for New Hampshire, as well as offering analyses on technical and economic potentials of what we can realistically achieve.  Summarily, the report is a call to action:

All of these recommendations will take effort and resources to implement. Some require state agency activity, some require legislation, others require private market activity, and many require a combination. The time for action is now. “

Where are we today?

In the two and a half years since completing the strategy, we did act, and we are making progress. The state created an Energy Efficiency Resource Standard, which will leverage public-private funding mechanisms to invest in saving greater amounts of energy and saving hundreds of millions of dollars for all New Hampshire consumers. The PUC also held an investigation into grid modernization. And this year, legislation was passed to improve our state’s Renewable Portfolio Standard to increase our use of in-state sources like biomass and solar energy (SB 129). 

While it is a very useful road map, the energy strategy is far from perfect. For example, the overall strategy contains a qualitative vision for the end of the ten-year period, but lacks quantitative goals or metrics by means of measuring success toward this vision. Also, it does not comprehensively address a few critical and topical issues, the foundation upon which our state will make tough decisions. These issues include transmission and generation infrastructure opportunities and challenges, embodied lately in Northern Pass, natural gas pipelines and wind-siting controversies.

Looking to the future, our new governor may choose to update or even re-do our state’s energy strategy. While there is certainly room for improvement, there is much in the existing strategy that is worth preserving, and worth pursuing. Many of us are still learning about the strategy, implementing its good ideas, and working toward that 2025 vision. Let’s build on what we’ve learned, not start from scratch. Just as it was the case in 2014, the time for action is now.

Kate Epsen is director of the NH Clean Tech Council. 

Categories: Tech Advice