NH’s Ten Year State Energy Strategy: Past, Present and Future.
Guest Blog by Kate Epsen, NH Sustainable Energy Association
Raise your hand if you know that NH has a 10 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 included Democratic and Republican representatives and senators, as well as a Public Utilities Commissioner, the Director of the Office of Energy and Planning, and the Department of Environmental Services Commissioner. This Council oversaw the creation of the strategy and approved the final version, produced by the Office of Energy and Planning with the additional support of consultants, and public input. This was a big effort, but 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.
There are four broad categories prioritized to achieve this outcome, each of which include many recommendations:
- 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, NH must modernize both our grid and the utilities that own and operate that grid.
- Increased investments in cost-effective energy efficiency. In our regional energy system, NH is losing ground to its neighbors on reducing our energy use and thereby reducing our share of costs. NH can saved hundreds of millions of dollars by investing in the cheapest form of energy: efficiency, conservation, and demand reduction.
- 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, NH 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.
- Increased transportation options. The state’s transportation sector accounts for 35% of our energy use and 46% 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 people.
In addition to a very comprehensive suite of recommendations, the state energy strategy provides excellent baseline energy information and data for NH, 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 NH consumers. The PUC also held an investigation into Grid Modernization (the final report is here), thanks to HB 401 in 2015. And this year, there is legislation to improve our state’s Renewable Portfolio Standard to increase our resources that come from in-state sources like biomass and solar energy (SB 129). We still have a lot of work to do, however, to achieve any of the goals for the transportation sector and to deploy much higher amounts of distributed generation.
While it is a very useful road map, the energy strategy is far from perfect. There are some clear gaps and shortfalls in it. 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, upon which our state will make tough decisions. These issues include energy transmission and generation infrastructure opportunities and challenges, embodied lately in Northern Pass, natural gas pipelines, and wind-siting controversies.
Throughout the creation of this strategy, there was opportunity for the public to participate and provide significant comments and critiques. You can read all the public comments that were submitted here. The comments came from diverse stakeholders who are invested in and passionate about NH’s energy future: feedback and ideas came from utilities, individuals, business leaders, and advocacy groups. For example, our organization, NHSEA and the NH Clean Tech Council, offered detailed comments and suggested that we set a goal around keeping our energy dollars in-state and associated actions that would achieve such wealth retention.
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.
And you start easily…just raise your hand.
Kate Epsen is the Executive Director of the New Hampshire Sustainable Energy Association (NHSEA)