Kate Epsen: For alternatives to Northern Pass, just look around

For the Monitor
Friday, February 23, 2018

New Hampshire’s energy future is at a pivotal transition point. With the site certification of the Northern Pass transmission project denied, our state has an excellent opportunity to catch its breath for a minute or two, and ask important questions about what kind of energy economy we want to create for the future.

Siting large infrastructure projects across New Hampshire has become increasingly difficult. Turning to smaller, community-controlled projects offers significant benefits. With many technologies, ownership models and sizes to choose from, it has never been a better time to bring real energy self-determination to our state.

Let’s turn to the local and clean fuels we have right here, ready to be further developed, and figure out what we want and need. Opportunities abound to build lasting infrastructure, bolster economic activity, control our costs, create direct benefits for New Hampshire, enhance our beautiful scenery and share in this bounty. Investors will look elsewhere if we don’t soon nurture these opportunities, so let’s not wait. As our state energy strategy says, “The time for action is now.”

Here are just a few examples of energy innovations that can be considered or implemented now:

Municipalities like Nashua want to power their operations with the existing hydro power plant they have down the road but currently cannot because of arbitrary limits on projects under net metering. (There is a bill in the Senate, SB 446, that would remedy this.)

This year, there will be 40 models of electric vehicles available to buy in the U.S. auto market. N.H. policy can support residents and businesses – and welcome tourists – by providing charging stations to minimize range anxiety, the fear of being stranded. A bonus for electric utilities is that they’ll sell more electrons. (Our governor can choose to use the money from Volkswagen’s settlement resulting from their emissions violations to install charging infrastructure.)

Manufacturers want to lower their fuel bills by switching to woodchip boilers that are supplied by chips harvested within a 50-mile radius but often must prove the investment will pay back in less than three years, a corporate threshold that is hard to meet without some financial help (but the Legislature wants to reduce the value of all vital thermal renewable energy certificates that help meet such corporate thresholds, and the House of Representatives just passed a bill, HB 114, to do so).

What do all of these examples have in common? They are all right at our fingertips. The benefits are broadly distributed and are not at the expense of any particular group. They all rely on considerable investment by many, not just one or two out-of-state companies. The “winners versus losers” argument doesn’t work when we all invest in projects from which we all can benefit.

These cases haven’t triggered the media-and-political sensation that a single large project, funded with hundreds of millions of dollars, caused. The advantages of these smaller and spread-out projects, however, are real, lasting and far greater in long-term value to New Hampshire. They bring well-paid jobs in the form of electricians, auditors, engineers and much more; they bring energy cost savings; they bring municipal tax relief; they bring economic activity; and they bring long-term business and investment into our great state. All this can be accomplished without compromising our beautiful landscape, tourism or local autonomy.

New Hampshire is small, we know each other, and we know what we need to do to create a landscape that generates prosperity. We are used to doing it our own way. We do have real energy challenges, but we do not need to exaggerate, dramatize or out-source those challenges in ways that obscure shovel-ready solutions. We rely immensely on energy for every aspect of our lives. Now we can rely on resources that we can get from within our borders.

Our native resources of wood, water, wind, heat from the ground and sun are widely available. Enabling technologies, like battery storage and cogeneration systems are also here to stay. The technology is ripe, these projects are relatively simple to site, and the examples are all around us. We can all claim victory if we work swiftly and creatively, and we do it together.

(Kate Epsen is executive director of the N.H. Sustainable Energy Association.)