New state energy plan likes nuclear power, worries about electricity rates, isn’t too interested in trains

  • The Seabrook Nuclear Power plant in Seabrook, N.H., is shown in a December 1988 photo. Dead seals have been found in the plant's cooling tunnels, located three miles from the plant in the Atlantic Ocean. A new plan to put vertical bars on the intake tunnel has environmentalists pleased but they oppose a requested exemption from the Marine Mammal Protecdtion Act. (AP Photo/Jim Cole)A new study of the Seabrook Station nuclear power plant shows an annual positive effect of 535 million to the state’s economy resulting from the operation of the plant. JIM COLE

  • The Seabrook nuclear power plant. Seabrook’s owner, NextEra Energy, has not indicated any desire to close the plant and is seeking to have its operating license renewed for another 20 years, but the industry is facing severe financial pressure. AP file

  • Granite State Solar project manager Darrren Starr works on setting up panels for a house in Litchfield, New Hampshire. Monitor file photo. GEOFF FORESTER

Monitor staff
Published: 4/17/2018 8:29:09 PM

A new 10-year energy strategy from the Sununu administration prefers Uber to trains, supports nuclear at least as much as wind and solar, and says that electricity cost to ratepayers rather than support for renewables should be topmost in the minds of regulators and lawmakers.

The 10-Year State Energy Strategy, released Tuesday by the Office of Energy and Planning, signals several shifts from a 2014 report issued under Gov. Maggie Hassan. While its effects will depend on what legislation get approved in coming years, the prominence given to financial concerns – four of the 11 goals listed in the executive summary include the phrase “cost-effective” while a fifth fears New Hampshire might be hit by “neighboring states’ policies that socialize costs” – certainly indicate a shift in emphasis.

Among the major points in the 62-page report is strong support for Seabrook Station nuclear power plant as a carbon-neutral source of electricity.

“It is important to ensure that Seabrook Station’s economic lifespan is not artificially shortened by state policy decisions. … Preserving Seabrook Station as a source of zero-carbon energy is the most realistic and cost-effective means of managing emissions in New Hampshire at scale,” the report says.

Seabrook’s owner, NextEra Energy, has not indicated any desire to close the plant and is seeking to have its operating license renewed for another 20 years. However, the industry is facing severe financial pressure because the electricity it produces is more expensive than electricity from plants using cheap natural gas. A half-dozen nuclear plants around the country have closed in recent years, and six more are scheduled to shut in the next two years with a number of others reported to be close to being shuttered.

The Energy Strategy argues that nuclear power should be included “as a component in New Hampshire’s environmental goals and policy frameworks.” This might mean adding nuclear power to the state’s Renewable Portfolio Standard, which provides incentives for producing electricity from solar, wind, hydropower, biomass and geothermal sources.

Otherwise, it’s difficult to see what the state could do to help Seabrook stay open other than paying subsidies, which seems unlikely, as the report says the government should “refrain from picking winners and losers among energy technologies.”

Renewable cost concern

The Energy Strategy is much less bullish on renewable energy sources due to fears they will raise the cost of electricity, arguing that subsidizes and mandates in Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island might “socialize costs” throughout the six-state region, which shares a power grid.

“The default assumption is that renewable energy is expensive, which may or may not be true, and expressing concern that New Hampshire is going to pay for it,” said Ari Peskoe, director Director of the Electricity Law Initiative at the Harvard Law School Environmental and Energy Law Program. “It’s sort of a southern New England versus northern New England issue.”

Peskoe, like many, argues that support for most renewables actually helps rate-payers because solar, wind and hydropower don’t have to buy fuel, so they can produce electricity cheaply. This forces plants that must buy coal, oil or gas to lower their charges or not find any buyers for their power, leading to lower electricity rates.

The Energy Strategy argues, however, that this short-term benefit has long-term costs because of the intermittent nature of solar and wind. If boosting renewables drives other sources of electricity out of business, it argues, the region might be exposed to shortages or have to take on an extra cost of subsidizing “on-call generation infrastructure,” meaning power plants that burn fossil fuels, “when intermittent resources are not able to produce.”

“The most successful way of reducing emissions and protecting our environmental resources from climate change is to achieve a market where low-emission resources are economically competitive without government mandates and subsidies,” it says. This seems to imply having the Public Utilities Commission alter the way power producers are paid so that they can profit from the environmental benefits of renewable energy.

Trains, siting and efficiency

In other matters, the report is much more direct on the topic of trains, which it mostly dismisses as being too expensive and not useful to enough people.

“Instead of new capital-intensive publicly-funded infrastructure such as extensive commuter rail systems, enabling personal vehicle options combined with on-demand fleets can deliver high-utilization travel. Transportation energy efficiency is more likely to be achieved with full car seats, not train cars,” it says. “Rail may offer a subset of travelers an energy efficient mode of transportation, but is more likely to serve a niche population.”

The report tiptoes around New Hampshire’s most contentious issue regarding energy: How to build large-scale energy resources such as natural gas pipelines and long-distance power lines in a state with strong local controls, since many localities don’t want these facilities nearby. It says only that “predictability,” “clear standards” and “communication” are needed to balance these concerns.

The study does not mention the long debate about Northern Pass but does note “There is abundant excess hydroelectric capacity available out-of-market, particularly in Canada. Access to such resources could be an effective method of delivering zero-carbon electricity into New England at cost-competitive prices.”

While the report says the state government should not prefer one power-generation technology over another, it is forthright in supporting ways that mean we need less power.

“Energy efficiency is the cheapest and cleanest energy resource,” it says. “New Hampshire should prioritize capturing cost-effective energy efficiency in all sectors, including buildings, manufacturing, and transportation.”

It praises a new Energy Efficiency Resource Standard from the Public Utilities Commission, and says the state “should continue to coordinate and support energy efficiency programming, such as weatherization, to achieve cost-effective savings.”

The New Hampshire 10-Year State Energy Strategy can be seen online at www.nh.gov/osi/energy/programs/documents/2018-10-year-state-energy-strategy.pdf

(David Brooks can be reached at 369-3313 or dbrooks@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @GraniteGeek.)

David Brooks bio photo

David Brooks is a reporter and the writer of the sci/tech column Granite Geek and blog granitegeek.org, as well as moderator of Science Cafe Concord events. After obtaining a bachelor’s degree in mathematics he became a newspaperman, working in Virginia and Tennessee before spending 28 years at the Nashua Telegraph . He joined the Monitor in 2015.



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