Rep. Peter Somssich: A path toward a 100 percent renewable energy future

For the Monitor
Published: 1/18/2019 12:10:07 AM

As a scientist who has been involved both professionally and personally with environmental issues and energy-related topics, I am well aware of the trade-offs needed to put New Hampshire on the path to a 100 percent renewable energy future.

That is why as a member of the N.H. House Science, Technology and Energy Committee I volunteered as the editor of a white paper titled “A 100% Renewable Energy Strategy for New Hampshire’s Future.” This paper, an alternative to the governor’s energy plan, was released in October 2018. It was authored by 10 contributors, and outlined how using our current and potential energy assets we can work toward a 100 percent renewable energy future for our state.

After many years of New Hampshire falling behind neighboring states in the areas of energy efficiency, renewable energy and greenhouse gas reduction, many of us legislators want to move ahead in these areas more aggressively. However, it is also important that we do so smartly and in a practical fashion.

While some like-minded advocates of our state are allergic to the words “pipelines” and “fossil fuels,” I am reminded of the fact that natural gas is in fact a bridge fuel to a renewable energy future. This fuel is cleaner than coal, oil and gasoline.

Many N.H. residents are dependent on natural gas for their heating needs and other applications. Even if they wanted to eliminate natural gas use entirely, there are currently no good options that are affordable for most customers.

Yes, it is also a greenhouse gas, but it can be properly managed. This is why I support the proposal by Liberty Utilities to build a connector pipeline from the Manchester area to Exeter (the Granite Bridge project) to ensure that N.H. customers are provided with affordable fuel and not susceptible to fuel shortages.

According to numerous conversations that I have had with those involved in the project, this project is not intended to bring additional natural gas beyond what current and projected customers need, and it is not intended as a way to export natural gas from N.H. ports. Yes, it does involve building a large natural gas storage tank (currently planned for Epping) to purchase gas at the lowest price. However, since the gas will be chilled and not pressurized, safety risks will be severely reduced. On the other hand, even though the path of the pipeline is along a N.H.-designated energy corridor and would need to be approved by the Site Evaluation Committee, I believe we should find a process that would still allow communities to have a say in the siting of large infrastructure facilities in their municipalities (some type of home rule process). Such a process would be beneficial for both the utilities and residents and would build a stronger bond of trust between these two groups.

Regardless of New Hampshire’s path to a renewable energy future, we’ll need our state utilities as partners on this journey and not as opponents. New Hampshire’s current natural gas infrastructure may be repurposed in the future to carry renewable-energy sourced-hydrogen gas to fueling stations along Interstate 95 or to state and municipal facilities providing them with a zero-emissions transportation fuel used in hydrogen fuel cell vehicles that are already available in California.

While our state has been moving very slowly in the area of renewable energy, the recent request by Gov. Chris Sununu to be included in the federal offshore wind task force that grants offshore wind leases is very encouraging. If we as residents of New Hampshire are serious about moving ahead to a renewable energy future, we’ll need the support of our state’s residents and the support of our state utilities to succeed.

(Rep. Peter Somssich lives in Portsmouth and is a member of the House Science, Technology and Energy Committee.)

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