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My Turn: New Hampshire’s path toward 100 percent renewable energy by 2040

  • The sun begins to set in this view from South Moat Mountain in Albany on Sept. 27. AP



For the Monitor
Saturday, December 16, 2017

A New Hampshire energy plan is not something many residents have heard much about. Despite the progress made in many areas, it seems that for every two steps forward, our state takes one step back.

The state is currently updating its “10 Year State Energy Strategy” plan, which touches on all the important areas, but lacks a clear timeline or specific target dates. This is because our political leaders cannot agree on a state energy plan with the kind of vision for New Hampshire’s energy future that would attract new and innovative companies from the renewable energy or energy efficiency sectors. Such a plan, if it is bold and sets challenging goals, would reduce New Hampshire electricity bills by pushing down demand and using energy more efficiently. Such a plan would also inspire young people to come to or stay in New Hampshire to work for such companies.

One of the reasons I joined the Science, Technology and Energy Committee of the House was because as a physicist I hoped to find less partisan infighting and more agreement about scientific issues. I was disappointed. Instead of listening to former senator Kelly Ayotte’s call to Republicans to concede the fact that climate change is real and primarily caused by humans, and moving on to investing in energy efficiency and renewable energy, I have discovered that many committee members prefer a political ideology over science.

I, for one, will put my trust in scientists and science over politicians any day, because science happens whether one believes it or not. That is why I am sponsoring a bill to create a committee to: 1) inventory all of New Hampshire’s in-state renewable energy assets, for example solar, biomass, hydro, wind energy (both on land and in the Gulf of Maine), biofuels and efficiency measures; 2) identify how more energy could be produced, if current restrictions were changed; 3) look at the projected price declines for renewable energy and the new emerging technologies, for example grid-level and residential battery storage, decentralized microgrids using blockchain applications; 4) bring utilities together to discuss how they would meet a 2040 goal of 100 percent renewable electricity; and 5) determine how much renewable energy must be imported (from out of state) to meet a 2040 goal.

This is not the plan to reach that 2040 goal, but a planning tool and a roadmap to get us there. As the saying goes: “Every journey begins with the first step.” This could be New Hampshire’s first step, assuming we want to compete with other New England states and do not decide to retreat from challenging goals.

Other states are already far ahead of New Hampshire. Hawaii has already set a renewable energy goal by 2050, while both California and New York could be legislating such targets by year’s end. If we do not act soon, many surrounding states will start implementing their plans, and we will lose control over our own future.

Our state has many of the elements needed for a viable plan: We currently import roughly $2.9 billion dollars each year of fossil fuel products that could be replaced by in-state renewable energy resources while creating new jobs; a viable biomass and small hydro industry; a strong solar and growing wind industry; a huge potential for Gulf of Maine off-shore wind energy; municipalities interested in community energy projects and efficiency upgrades; and still largely untapped energy efficiency measures, including between 10,000 to 30,000 low-income residents waiting for energy audits, with state and federal funding covering only 1,000 each year.

While some prefer to attack the plans of others, New Hampshire towns such as Lancaster are already moving ahead.

(Peter Somssich of Portsmouth represents Rockingham District 27 in the New Hampshire House of Representatives, and serves on the Science, Technology and Energy Committee.)