by Peter Somssich and Ken Wells
Today, energy costs New Hampshire residents a lot of money! The annual amount we pay for electricity and heating fuel for our homes is $1.9 billion, more than $2,000 per adult. [U.S. Department of Energy, 2018.] But that only accounts for part of our yearly energy bill. Our annual average energy bill goes up to $4,500 when we include transportation fuel, both for our private vehicles and to get all the goods and services we rely upon transported to us from around the world. Commercial and industrial enterprises (retailers and manufacturers) pass on an additional $1,700 per year in energy costs to each consumer who buys their products.
Where do those dollars go? They could have gone to local energy producers whose operations made investments and hired people in your own communities. But today, that’s not where your money goes. Nearly all of your energy dollars leave New Hampshire, going to producers of fossil fuels in places like Texas, Pennsylvania or Canada. And then half of New Hampshire electricity comes from nuclear power, requiring uranium from Canada, Kazakhstan, Australia, Russia and other foreign producers. All of this out-of-state energy costs New Hampshire residents and businesses $5.8 billion, nearly seven percent of our state’s GDP.
New Hampshire must develop an “Energy Strategy” for the future, which it currently does not have. Such a strategy must fit our state’s unique circumstances and also lay out a multistep plan for the future.
If one keeps pouring water into a leaky bucket; that bucket may never get filled. Just like individual homes, our state must first right-size our energy needs, before we decide which fuel and technology to use, for adding or removing energy from our homes and businesses. But, in addition, our future strategy must consider the environmental impact, i.e., our energy should be renewable, green and sustainable.
The first step must be to dramatically plug the energy leaks. Our second step should be to fully maximize the in-state renewable energy resources that New Hampshire already possesses, e.g., hydropower, biomass, solar and onshore wind, as well as future offshore wind resources. Finally, our state’s leaders must encourage new technologies and energy programs that also avoid unhealthful air and water contamination, lessen harm to our state’s forests and wildlife, and reduce our contribution to climate-damaging Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions.
Currently our state consumes approximately 94,000 GWh of “primary energy” (fuel) for electricity, transportation and heating. Electricity consumes approximately 36 percent, while transportation uses 33 percent, with heating accounting for the remaining 31 percent. Our strategy must start by setting challenging but achievable goals. Currently our goal-setting mechanism, the RPS (Renewable Portfolio Standard) calls for 25 percent of our electricity to be renewable by 2025. We are already at 18 percent and should easily meet that target. But RPS goals only apply to electricity; now we must set similar goals for heating energy and transportation.
New goals for heating can start with aggressive energy efficiency measures to drive down our demand for energy. Insulation and efficient appliances have been proven to be the most effective and cost-efficient way to reduce energy demand. Our biomass industry should be encouraged to provide heating energy to replace conventional out-of-state fossil-fuels. Maximizing our state’s renewable energy supply must also include significant increases in solar energy production, plus energy storage facilities to distribute that energy at times when it is at highest demand. With energy storage facilities, renewable energy resources such as hydro, solar and wind will be used more effectively. Increasing our state’s net-metering cap from one megawatt to five would make it more financially attractive for businesses and municipalities to generate their own energy.
New technologies, such as self-sufficient microgrids and renewable gases from landfills or offshore wind turbines, are becoming viable and financially affordable techniques. Our state needs to be ready to adopt them at the appropriate time. Transportation technologies with hybrids and EVs are likewise maturing. Hydrogen, or H2, is already practical as a zero-emission fuel for fuel cell vehicles sold on the west coast. Most New England states are already exploring the possibility of creating a program similar to the electrical grid’s RGGI (Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative) called the Transportation Climate Initiative (TCI). TCI would surcharge imports of fossil fuels into New England, using those new revenues to encourage more fuel-efficient vehicles, EVs, and public transportation projects in New Hampshire.
Imagine how beneficial it would be to retain the $5.8 billion that leaves our state annually. Let us not turn back the clock, but plan for the future instead!
Rep. Peter Somssich is the Ranking Democratic Member of the House Science Technology & Energy Committee for District 2, Portsmouth.
Honorable Ken Wells is a former Member of the House Science Technology & Energy Committee for District 1, Andover.