Harold Turner: Common ‘cents’ views on energy

For the Monitor
Thursday, May 17, 2018

After years of continued battles over large energy infrastructure projects in New Hampshire, the general consensus is that there won’t be any new projects anytime soon.

Part of the opposition to large energy projects today stems from the fact that none of the energy from those projects flows directly into New Hampshire customers, while the benefits (if any) flow to ISO-NE and then on to customers in southern New England.

Currently, New Hampshire is still a net exporter of electricity due to the effect of the Seabrook nuclear plant’s capacity. Like it or not, our electrical grid is run regionally, and New Hampshire is but a 10 percent player in that mix.

It’s perfectly understandable that New Hampshire residents are not going to voluntarily diminish what they view as our natural resources and quality of life without substantial net benefits to New Hampshire.

The old cost-benefit argument used in evaluating proposed projects has stood up pretty well over time. That’s not to say we shouldn’t be aware of the potential for special interest opposition groups or NIMBY opposition to have the unintended effect of disproportionately influencing outcomes. However, based on what I have observed over my 40 years of living here, I will place a great deal of faith in the “people” over “bureaucrats” in protecting our state.

That’s not to say that we have zero solutions for enhancing our energy infrastructure inside New Hampshire without the existence of new large projects.

In fact, New Hampshire’s Legislature recently overwhelming passed legislation (Senate Bill 446), that now awaits the governor’s signature, which allows small energy producers up to 5 megawatts to participate in net-metering. The previous limit was 1 megawatt. These small projects could be in the form of a single project that would be primarily used by a single manufacturer or a municipality for their own needs.

However, they could also be something like a solar farm where a group (group net metering) of customers shares in the energy production over the electrical energy distribution system. The best part is that there are no ratepayers subsidizing other ratepayers when any of this occurs.

There are special interests groups (and utilities) who will try to make this claim, but it simply isn’t true. Numbers don’t lie, just economists. Make no mistake about the fact that there are rich and powerful companies behind all forms of energy supplies. This type of self-generation is just one form of demand-side management, where you elect to buy less of their expensive stuff and displace it by investing in your own stuff at a lower cost. This is good in business and at home.

Also, never lose sight of your own ability to buy less of their stuff by investing in efficiency measures that allow you to use less stuff overall. In this case we are talking about electricity. Over the past 40-plus years, electrical efficiency investments have proven to be the lowest costs of all energy alternatives. All of the New England states have much higher electrical rates than the national average, and it’s not rocket science to understand why. We are geographically where we are, and that is not going to change – and nobody is walking through the door tomorrow with lower rates.

In fact, all the investments that our utility companies are making in their infrastructure are raising rates, not to mention the huge ISO-NE investments in our transmission systems (the highest rate of increases).

Sometimes, the best course of action to save a dollar and/or provide a resource over time is to accomplish it one small step at a time, and by the many rather than the few.

All New Hampshire ratepayers have the “solution” in their own hands if they are prepared to walk the walk, especially if they understand that no one big solution is coming along soon to accomplish the same outcome.

(Harold Turner is a small-business owner and professional engineer who lives and works in Concord. He is also the chairman of the Granite Institute, a 501(c) 3 State Policy Network affiliated think tank.)