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January 02. 2013 10:19PM

Another View -- Jim O'Brien: A decade later, it is time to revise New Hampshire's energy plan

More than a decade ago, the Legislature passed a law requiring the creation of the state's first comprehensive 10-year energy plan. According to the executive summary, its creation "was motivated in large part by recognition of energy's central role in fulfilling our priorities of economic growth, environmental quality, and a diverse energy supply." It is time to revisit this 10-year-old strategy, providing incoming Gov. Maggie Hassan with an opportunity to put forward a vision for how New Hampshire should meet the energy demands of a growing economy while protecting ratepayers and our environment.

Our energy choices and our economy are intrinsically linked. A recent independent study on energy found that "10 to 50 percent of the income of many NH households goes to paying energy bills, and energy is a significant expense for businesses, industries, and government." In 2002, when the first energy plan was drafted, a gallon of home heating oil cost $1.38. Today, that same gallon of fuel costs homeowners $3.74. Escalation in the price of both heating and transportation fuels makes energy costs one of the major drivers in family budgets.

More than 90 percent of the energy that powers and drives our state's economy is imported, making our economy extremely vulnerable to changes and fluctuations in supply and cost of energy. New Hampshire citizens, businesses and governments export more than $4 billion annually to pay for these fuels, with many of those dollars going overseas. This export of capital represents nearly 7 percent of New Hampshire's annual Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Finding innovative ways to slow this outflow of money and keep more of these dollars in our state by encouraging investments in energy efficiency needs to be a cornerstone in a newly crafted state energy strategy.

The good news is that many of the recommendations that came out of the 2002 plan have been advanced or transformed into innovative policy. The creation of a Renewable Energy Standard and Gov. John Lynch's call for 25 percent of our energy production to be from renewable sources by 2025 are helping to foster a generation of clean energy development. Other advances such as New Hampshire's participation in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative and the supply of low-cost natural gas have come about as industry and policymakers responded to changes in regional energy markets and environmental concerns.

While it is true that there have been successes in advancing the recommendations of the first plan, it is also true that much has changed in the energy and environmental landscape. Ten years ago, the prospect of large, voluntary transmission projects bisecting the state to supply energy not needed for system reliability was not an issue being contemplated by policymakers and property owners. Ten years ago, there was not such concern about wind development on ridgelines and mountaintops across the state. And, as is true across the economy, technology advances continue to reshape and redefine the energy industry; and much of what is possible today was not available 10 years ago.

It is time for the state to craft an energy strategy that builds upon the success of the first plan, addresses new concerns and identifies strategies to take advantage of opportunities as new innovations and markets develop. We can draw from the good work on energy policy issues over the past decade, including the 2009 Climate Change Action Plan and 2011's Independent Study on Energy Policy.

The Energy Efficiency and Sustainable Energy (EESE) Board have been meeting since 2008 and bring a wealth of expertise from industry, government and non-profit organizations. These resources and more should be tapped in order to create a proactive energy strategy that incorporates economic growth, innovation and environmental sustainability.

Governor Hassan identified the importance of revisiting the state's energy plan during her campaign. She now has the opportunity to work with bipartisan leaders in the House and Senate to begin the process and underscore the importance of a sound energy strategy to both the state's economy and environment.

Jim O'Brien is director of external affairs for the New Hampshire chapter of The Nature Conservancy. He also serves on the steering committee of the New Hampshire Climate Collaborative.

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