Increasing energy efficiency is among the cheapest and cleanest ways to save on energy costs, reduce energy demand, and lower greenhouse gas emissions that intensify the effects of climate change. In the words of a recent report on New Hampshire’s energy efficiency potential, think of energy efficiency as “using less energy to provide the same [or better] service.” When compared with new energy resources, saving energy through efficiency measures is actually cheaper and in many cases much cheaper. It also can create thousands of local jobs and boost diverse sectors of the economy.
Yet, among the New England states, New Hampshire has not lived up to its thrifty reputation when it comes to energy efficiency. With big energy projects garnering much of the attention in New Hampshire in recent years, the Granite State hasn’t pursued investments and policies that would prioritize energy efficiency over imported fossil fuels and other resources. The good news is that there are encouraging efforts underway to change that, including legislation that goes before the New Hampshire Senate tomorrow.
New Hampshire law does encourage energy efficiency with programs that are similar to those in other states. While modest in scale, these programs are quite popular and provide energy audits, rebates, and other incentives to households and businesses, funded through a very small charge on electric and natural gas bills and proceeds of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI).
The energy efficiency programs that New Hampshire has implemented have already yielded strong savings. Just one of the programs, the “Pay for Performance” program (P4P) funded by RGGI, estimates it has saved New Hampshire building owners 10.9 Million kWh in electric energy consumption, generating 26 percent cost savings from a $11.5 Million investment (incentives covered 35 percent of that investment). P4P says these savings achieved a 12,000 ton reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. Assuming the same rate of greenhouse gas reductions, 6.6 percent in energy savings statewide could reduce greenhouse gas emissions by over 787,000 tons.
Unfortunately, despite existing programs, New Hampshire ranks last in New England for energy efficiency policy, according to a 2013 State Energy Efficiency Scorecard released by the energy efficiency organization ACEEE. In similar fashion, Northeast Energy Efficiency Partnerships found that New Hampshire is “falling behind” other states in the region on energy efficiency. A big reason is that some energy efficiency funds, such as dollars collected under RGGI, have been redirected away from their intended use. In recent years, business lobbyists and some state agency staff also have questioned the costs of energy efficiency investments and have been reluctant to pursue well-grounded policies that have already been implemented in other states, like reorienting utilities to incentivize energy efficiency. Most importantly, the state has yet to pass a policy mandating significant and measurable increases in energy efficiency.
Over the long-term, increasing energy efficiency and intelligently changing utility incentives will bring New Hampshire excellent returns on investment, as a progression of technical studies have demonstrated and diverse stakeholders have argued. A recent study commissioned by New Hampshire’s Office of Energy and Planning estimates that achieving all “cost-effective” energy efficiency improvements in New Hampshire’s buildings could save the state as much as 715.4 million kWh in electric energy annually. This would require a graduated capital investment of $941 million over 15 years, yielding a remarkable $2.9 billion return. The $195 million in potential annual savings represents 6 percent of total energy expenditures in 2012. Indeed, there are even greater savings possible that are not discussed in the study, which recommends a series of innovations in energy efficiency programs through adoption of what is called an Energy Efficiency Resource Standard (EERS).
The environmental case for ramping up energy efficiency in New Hampshire only gets more urgent. In the last few weeks, both President Obama’s recent National Climate Assessment and the IPCC’s landmark Fifth Assessment report have made the impacts of failing to respond to climate change abundantly clear. The reports explain that significant amounts of anthropogenic greenhouse gasses are already impacting many communities around the world. Those particularly hard hit are the poor, communities of color, children and the elderly. Many scientists believe that climate change intensified Hurricane Sandy’s destruction in the Northeast, and that the resulting temperature increases and ocean level rise will bring more floods to New England. A recent study at UNH supported that conclusion with analysis specific to the Granite State. Without committed action from the private and public sectors in the United States to using what is available (such as energy efficiency improvements) to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the myriad negative consequences of climate change are more likely to become the new norm.
With this backdrop, New Hampshire is finally moving forward with policy changes that will help the state achieve its energy efficiency potential. Tomorrow, the state Senate will be voting on two energy efficiency-related bills (House Bills 532 and 1129).
- HB532 would strengthen New Hampshire’s “Property Assessed Clean Energy” law, which ties investments in energy-related projects to the building, not the building owner, through property assessments used by municipalities. The bill would enable much more ambitious projects such as deep retrofits of existing buildings by allowing for significant private investment. Our colleagues at the Jordan Institute have taken a lead role in advocating for this bill.
- HB1129, which is based on a series of four studies of energy efficiency in New Hampshire, would create a legislative study group tasked with recommending ways to increase all cost-effective energy efficiency in buildings across the public and private sectors and appropriate legislation for 2015. Along with the New Hampshire Sustainable Energy Association and the New Hampshire Clean Tech Council, CLF offered testimony in favor of HB1129 in both the House and Senate. (A complementary effort is already underway at the NH Public Utilities Commission.)
These bills alone will not achieve the energy efficiency savings in New Hampshire that studies have indicated are attainable. Getting there will require boosting energy efficiency investments with an Energy Efficiency Resource Standard. And it will also require addressing the challenge of addressing “lost revenue” that utilities will experience as energy use moderates and declines as those investments bear fruit. I will explore both issues in a future post.
In the meantime, take a moment today to call your state senator to support energy efficiency in New Hampshire by voting in favor of HB532 and HB1129!
Jeff Fromuth is an intern in CLF’s New Hampshire office.