There’s a reality about stories that journalists and cops know best. When you talk to eyewitnesses and gather hard facts, a story often turns out very different than what you were first told.
Here in New Hampshire we’ve heard a recurring story about energy, specifically electricity rates. It goes like this: “New Hampshire has some of the highest electricity rates in the country. If we don’t make big investments in pipelines and power lines, rates will stay high, stifling economic development and chasing job to other parts of the country.”
It’s a story that’s easy to believe, because everyone thinks their own bills must be the worst, and when it’s told over, and over again, a story starts to sound believable — whether it’s actually true or not.
We wondered, though, if that story is accurate or if it might be a one-sided view of reality promoted by interests that will economically benefit from new energy infrastructure.
So, we asked around. For more than a year, we’ve been holding listening sessions across the state to hear directly from businesses, municipalities, and other energy stakeholders, to better understand their greatest concerns and the opportunities they see for the future.
And we thought we should gather some verifiable information from experts. We funded, with our partner the Community Development Finance Authority, a study by an interdisciplinary team of researchers at the University of New Hampshire. The researchers analyzed a vast library of studies to determine the most economically feasible approaches to ensure that New Hampshire residents, businesses and manufacturers have a reliable, affordable, and sustainable electricity system now and in the future. They examined the cost of electrical power in the region, the reliability of the grid to meet demand and the potential risk New Hampshire ratepayers face if these expensive expansion projects are approved.
Here’s what we learned:
- New Hampshire’s electricity supply is reliable. Even during cold winter weather and other periods of high demand, New England’s electrical grid keeps power flowing to homes, schools, and businesses. Numerous reliability studies have demonstrated that there is no immediate risk to New England’s energy security.
- Statistics tell us that New England’s economy will continue to grow without a corresponding increase in energy use. Over the most recent 10-year period, the state GDP in New England grew by 9.7 percent while its energy use fell by 9.6 percent.
- While the price per kilowatt hour of electricity (the “rate”) in New Hampshire has been higher than the national average for decades, the average electric bill is equal to or lower than the national average (actual cost to ratepayers). One reason is that the region has embraced energy efficiency and is more efficient than most areas of the United States.
- Because global and regional energy markets are in a period of extraordinary transition, there is significant risk that a pipeline will lead to overcapacity and leave ratepayers to pick up the bill – to be responsible for “stranded costs” as we are with ratepayer-funded investments like the Seabrook nuclear power station and the scrubber at the Merrimack Station.
In short, the UNH research finds no immediate need for New Hampshire to expand its pipeline infrastructure and that more extensive study should be done to determine if there truly is a long-term need for increased capacity. There are no studies, to date, that establish this.
In the meantime, the report illustrates clearly that New Hampshire has other choices. Energy efficiency measures and expanded use of renewables are cost-effective measures that provide greater customer flexibility and lower risk for ratepayers. Policies supporting these practices—like New Hampshire’s new Energy Efficiency Resource Standard— could be implemented quickly and changed if necessary.
Now we have our own story to tell, and we started telling it in March, when The Nature Conservancy led a coalition effort to bring the news of New Hampshire’s energy future to the state capital by hosting the first New Hampshire Energy Week.
For four consecutive days in March, we told a new story: that New Hampshire’s Energy Future is Now, and that we have the tools and methods available to move to a clean energy future.
Energy Week gathered the Granite State’s top energy stakeholders and policy makers – representatives from the highest levels of state government – along with major manufacturers and municipalities from the smallest to the largest in the state, many of them already taking action and looking for it to be easier for them and others to do more.
Energy Week was a success, but we’re not stopping there. The Conservancy is committed to changing the dialog on energy in New Hampshire, to enable policy changes that will promote opportunities for clean energy. We don’t have all the answers yet, but New Hampshire citizens have enough information now to raise critical questions about costly infrastructure plans. Our policy makers have an obligation to answer these questions before making decisions that have implications that will last for decades.