My Turn: Time to break out of New Hampshire’s energy efficiency polar vortex
When the thermostat reads 10 below zero and 4 inches of poorly insulated wall separates you from the bitter cold, you might consider what it takes to raise the temperature 70 or 80 degrees to keep your home or business reasonably warm. And what impact that has on everyone else.
At a recent Business and Industry Association meeting, Democratic Rep. David Borden of New Castle noted that each year in New Hampshire we spend about $6 billion on energy. He further stated that we probably waste a third of that. I think his estimate is on the conservative side. Our building stock hemorrhages energy. Later in the same meeting, a business owner – who requires massive amounts of electricity for operations – said he couldn’t stomach expanded public funding for energy efficiency efforts, that he was already faced with exorbitant energy costs. The Gorham Paper and Tissue mill reduced paper-making operations and laid off dozens of employees because of natural gas prices, related to pipeline capacity.
There is a direct connection between cost-volatility for industrial users of energy and demand spikes from other sectors. Improving the energy performance of residential, municipal and commercial buildings would means less energy needed to flow through pipelines, transmission lines and fuel trucks – in many cases a 50 percent reduction of energy use is quite feasible – which in turn reduces energy demand system-wide, and thus reduces energy prices for everyone. There is never a rate of return on wasted energy.
New Hampshire has studied this problem for many years, with one study leading to another study, but very little action. An effort to develop an energy strategy for New Hampshire is currently under way. It should provide additional guidance on next steps. We all know that ramping up energy efficiency efforts in buildings will be a key recommendation. Can’t we start working on it sooner rather than later?
Adding pipelines and transmission lines is not a solution; they simply provide a mechanism to waste more. Energy efficiency should be considered an energy resource in New Hampshire. If we can better manage energy use, we don’t need to expand energy capacity. In many cases, it is less expensive to “buy” energy efficiency than to buy the energy itself. “Least-cost procurement” is a Yankee attribute we have so far failed to incorporate into our utility regulations and energy practices.
Who should take the lead? All of us. Be it saving money, reduced susceptibility to price volatility, Yankee frugality, national security, greenhouse gas emissions reductions and other environmental benefits, improved comfort, the jobs that come with improving our building stock and related economic development, improved physical assets in our communities – whatever your favorite reason, we need to stop wasting energy. Now.
How should do we do it? We should get past the initial sticker shock and understand that whether we buy energy or we buy energy efficiency, we are spending the same dollars. Only the energy efficiency dollars have a compounding rate of return.
(Laura Richardson is executive director of The Jordan Institute, a Concord-based nonprofit that helps commercial building owners significantly reduce their energy use.)