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Charles M. Arlinghaus: New Hampshire is being ruined by too many BANANAS

May 05. 2015 9:17PM

ARE YOU a banana? New Hampshire has too many bananas and is suffering because of it.

Most of us are familiar with the acronym NIMBY, an abbreviation for Not In My Back Yard. You picture someone saying, “That’s a great idea; we should have one of those, but not in my backyard. It would be better in yours.” Let’s put the giant compost heap in your yard, and we can use mine to sip lemonade.

New Hampshire’s response to infrastructure has always had a bit of a NIMBY element to it. But lately we seem to have graduated to tropical fruit. Our best acronym now is BANANA: Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anything.

Every new project is opposed for some reason or another, often for any reason at all. There seems to be an active and vocal group traipsing from one meeting to another seeking to stop anything new from happening.

The problem with these banana people is that they don’t understand that the status quo is a bad thing and needs to be changed, not preserved. The state has spent decades pretending everything is fine with its electricity markets and that nothing needs to happen. And it’s killing us.

Slowly but surely the dynamism that used to be our job market has turned to stagnation. Mediocre job growth means people don’t move here much, younger people can’t stay even if they want to, and too many Granite Staters have to work in Boston or some other place at the end of a horrific commute.

And the biggest hole in our competitive armor is electricity.

The fight for jobs needs to be fought on as many fronts as possible, but on the electricity cost front we’re not just losing; we are getting routed.

Last week, new data were released about just how bad things are here and how much worse they are getting. Then again, a glance at your own electric bill probably told you everything is not fine.

In February, New Hampshire’s electric rates were 68 percent higher than the national average. This is even worse than a year ago when we were an already too high 54 percent above average. To add insult to injury, we are least competitive in the area where we need to be most competitive: the industrial sector. The grotesque 86 percent above average rates of a year ago for industrial users have ballooned to 105 percent above average.This is not a minor expense. It amounts to hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of a costly drag on our economic competitiveness.

Think about it this way: The companies that create the best-paying jobs in the high-tech and manufacturing sectors — the industries we would give our eye teeth to attract — would see double the electric bill if they had the misfortune to locate here. And your banana friends think that’s fine.

If you believe a banana, life is grand, and all those people worried about jobs are just being silly. Actually, if we’re being fair, most of them don’t care. Their analysis has only gone as far as: Don’t build it. They presume the juice for their iPhone and electric car will materialize some other way. Exactly how is someone else’s problem.

The someone else is us. It’s our problem. We can read the numbers and realize that New Hampshire is on the verge of becoming a backwater. The dynamic state we once were is now limping along, sore and bedraggled.

Stagnation and electric costs are not two different things. Reducing the cost of electricity requires having more of it. Having more of it requires building things — the infrastructure necessary to create a modern life, to power the machinery and technology that are part of well-paying jobs.

No one would suggest we build everything anyone wants. But we have a big problem, and it will require living in a modern world (I live a few hundred feet from a power line). We are going to have to allow more building and fewer bananas.

Charles M. Arlinghaus is president of the Josiah Bartlett Center for Public Policy, a free-market think tank in Concord.

Environment Politics Social issues Energy NH's Energy Future Charles Arlinghaus

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