My Turn: A plan to power NH

Last modified: Sunday, December 14, 2014
Lately I hear many concerns about the future of New Hampshire. As often as I hear those concerns focused on rising energy costs, I hear them focused on our state corporate tax structure, the lack of a skilled workforce, and the trend showing that our population is significantly aging. 

As an entrepreneur in the clean energy sector, I see these challenges that small and large businesses face, and the opportunities to overcome them. 

A challenge is not a crisis. Higher energy prices are a serious challenge for businesses and homeowners, volatility in those prices is an even greater one. Fossil fuel prices are volatile, in both directions. Just look at the recent price drop in gasoline. The “fuel” used by renewable energy is free once the system that uses it is built. Conventionally fueled power plants also have major capital costs for construction, and generally speaking, much higher operation and maintenance costs than renewable energy systems. Then there is energy efficiency, which eliminates the need to use a portion of energy for the same output, and at a much lower cost than new generation.

New Hampshire has indeed always had higher than US-average energy costs. This isn’t surprising, given that New England has no indigenous fossil fuel resources and given that we are located at the end of the natural gas pipeline. What is surprising is the reluctance we have shown toward the new economic development, wealth retention, and improved public health opportunities that lie in pursuing renewable energy, energy efficiency, and grid modernization opportunities. We have many opportunities before us to reduce volatility and costs while improving our state – dismissing these solutions in favor of the status quo does not serve us well.

For example, those who purport to be concerned with energy affordability often incorrectly link the Renewable Portfolio Standard and energy efficiency investment programs like RGGI to high energy prices. New Hampshire data have never supported that claim. In fact, as explained recently by a utility executive at a public legislative meeting, our high electricity prices are driven by the fossil-fuel commodity cost (e.g. natural gas or oil). In contrast, investments that serve to ultimately lower our bill (e.g. renewable energy and efficiency) comprise only about 2 percent of what we pay for electricity. The creative investments that New Hampshire and our region have made in clean energy have already helped to mitigate volatility in the market by suppressing wholesale power prices and shaving off those high priced peaks in the summer and winter.

Economic growth from a vibrant clean energy sector need not be a zero-sum game: We need better diversity in our generation mix, including distributed resources and storage. The U.S. military knows this, major corporations know this, and small businesses here in New Hampshire know this. They are all investing in advanced energy technologies – LED lighting, heat pumps, solar, and micro-grids. These technologies save money, promote new economic growth, and attract young people to the promise of interesting and valuable work.

I see dramatic economic growth stemming from the clean energy sector in states across the U.S., from neighboring Massachusetts and Vermont, to North Carolina. While these states are different in many respects, they are similar in their efforts to create a positive investment environment for the clean energy sector to flourish, without creating tax or rate burdens to consumers. The formula is simple: create policies that drive the market toward low risk-reasonable return investment opportunities. Historically, this has been done primarily for fossil-fuel based energy and the infrastructure to support it. Now is the time to expand that formula to investments in advanced energy technologies.

We can do this at the Public Utilities Commission with innovative time-of-use rate designs, we can do it in the legislature by setting a concrete energy efficiency resource goal, and we can do it in our towns by enacting revenue-neutral renewable energy property tax exemptions, just to name a few examples of real solutions.

If we continue on a path that ignores the value of clean energy to New Hampshire in favor of the status quo, the conditions we see now may worsen. New Hampshire has a great opportunity before it – we must implement an all-inclusive strategy to build an energy portfolio that creates jobs desired by skilled workers and professionals, saves money, controls volatility, increases security, and generates new or retained wealth. I will do my part – will you do yours?

(Jeff Haydock is a member of the NH CleanTech Council and the founder and CEO of ecoCFO, LLC.)