My Turn: New Hampshire’s new clean energy consensus

For the Monitor
Published: 4/16/2019 12:15:19 AM

If there’s one thing Republicans and Democrats can agree on, it’s that they agree on nothing at all. At least that is the impression you get watching cable news these days or reading the latest dispatch from Washington or Concord.

Yet in spite of the polarized nature of American politics, a new consensus is emerging when it comes to the defining challenge of the 21st century. It begins far beyond the cacophony on Capitol Hill.

For years now, ordinary Americans in red states and blue states have been paying the price of a rapidly warming planet. While most of our political leaders have dawdled or outright denied the climate crisis, we the people have faced its full effects, one 1,000-year flood or hurricane or heat wave or wildfire or drought after another.

Here in New Hampshire, Seacoast residents of every political persuasion have seen their property values plummet due to rising seas and floods, as homes become increasingly un-insurable. Warmer temperatures are causing an explosion in Lyme-bearing ticks, which do not discriminate between Democrats and Republicans when delivering their debilitating disease. The same goes for pesky particles of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides, emitted from smokestacks and tailpipes, that are indiscriminately causing thousands of hospitalizations and over 120 premature deaths a year, at a public health cost of $1 billion. Even our apolitical moose and maple trees are feeling the strain of global warming and migrating north with the snow – or dying by a million ticks.

For these reasons and more, Granite Staters across the political spectrum now accept the scientific consensus on climate. Where just one-third of Republicans and half of all Granite Staters believed human-caused global warming was a reality in 2010, some seven in 10 adults hold that view today, including the vast majority of millennials.

More than just acknowledging the problem, we want our elected leaders to actually solve it. According to New Hampshire survey data from Yale and George Mason universities in 2018, nine in 10 people, including 78% of Republicans, want public funding of renewable energy research; eight in 10 (63% of Republicans) support regulating carbon dioxide as a pollutant; and seven in 10 (53% of Republicans) think corporations should do more to address global warming. Fully 95% of Democrats and 71% of Republicans nationwide even support requiring utilities in state to source their energy from 100% clean, renewable sources by 2050.

As go the people, so go their politicians – and the further they are from Washington the further they seem to go.

Since President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew the United States from the Paris climate accords in 2017, municipalities across the state, including New Hampshire’s largest cities, have joined over 100 leading businesses in declaring, “We are still in.” At town meetings this spring, voters approved a range of steps to deal with global warming, from zoning changes in flood-prone areas to “rights-based resolutions” against local fossil fuel development to municipal solar energy projects on public lands and roofs. Many communities have even committed to make the 100% clean energy transition.

At the state level in Concord, a raft of climate and clean energy legislation is steadily making its way through the House and Senate and expected to reach the governor’s desk in a matter of weeks. Of the dozens of bills introduced to move New Hampshire forward on solar and energy efficiency, batteries and electric vehicles, RGGI and carbon pricing, many were jointly sponsored by Democrats and Republicans and have already passed their respective chambers with strong bipartisan approval. One bill, Senate Bill 159, designed to save taxpayers money and reclaim polluted public lands for solar, even passed the N.H. Senate unanimously and won with 70% in the House. It was the same 5-megawatt net metering bill vetoed by Gov. Chris Sununu less than nine months ago.

Indeed, after years of trailing our neighbors to the south and west when it comes to climate and clean energy legislation, New Hampshire is finally poised to join the 21st century. All that remains to be seen is whether Gov. Sununu will accept the climate science and join the new clean energy consensus before it is too late. Our kids are counting on him.

(Dan Weeks is a co-owner and director at ReVision Energy in Brentwood. He lives in Nashua with his wife and kids.)

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