Talking energy with the new head of the NH Electric Co-op
The headquarters of the New Hampshire Electric Cooperative is located in Plymouth. (Courtesy)
The New Hampshire Electric Cooperative has a new president. Alyssa Clemsen Roberts started in September as energy rates had begun skyrocketing and many in the state worried how they would afford their electric bills during an exceptionally expensive winter.
Clemsen Roberts, who replaces outgoing President Steve Camerino, spoke with the Bulletin last month about the volatile energy market, what the co-op is doing about skyrocketing electricity costs, and how to get more women working in energy.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
The energy market is so crazy right now, and it’s top of the mind for many people. Unfortunately, it’s a time where people are really hurting. The co-op’s rates have gone up, but not as much as those of regulated utilities. (In New Hampshire, that includes Eversource, Liberty and Unitil.)
What are your thoughts on that and what is the co-op going to do to insulate members moving forward?
I want to make sure that I’m fair when we talk about the regulated utilities. The reason we’re able to be a little more innovative about how we procure power is because we’re not regulated. They’re following a prescribed statute on how they do things. So what they’re doing is not wrong – it’s really what they’re obligated to do from my understanding.
We at the co-op are able to do things a little bit differently. But also, everyone is feeling the pinch. We’re not immune. We are constantly trying to find creative ways to do things – to do more with less, like everyone is.
Right now, the entire country is facing some of these issues. The New England ISO (the region’s independent grid operator) clearly is having more pressure. They’ve talked about not having enough power to provide energy to all of New Hampshire and the New England area. I think we’re just going to continue to see things happen like this.
So, what can be done about it?
We just started talking about how we procure power. We have been buying tranches of power to cover our power supply for not only this period, but for the next, trying to make sure that we’re not at such a high level of market risk. We have some small amount of renewables, but we’re talking about looking at expanding that as well.
We are supportive of our members adding solar. You’ve got the distributed energy resources (like rooftop solar, for example). I think we need to start talking about calls to conserve and how we educate our members. It’s better to conserve, than to not be able to provide power.
How does the region’s dependence on natural gas play into this?
I also think we’ve got to figure out what we’re doing with natural gas, because we know the distribution of natural gas is difficult in New England. So when you’re using it to heat, and you’re using it for energy, those two interests become competing, which drives up the cost. And we know that we have finite amounts of pipelines to deliver it.
So there’s all of these things happening. And I would just say we are, like everyone, trying to put some safeguards in place.
Right now, we are in the planning stage and making some efforts to secure some short-term power contracts to keep things from getting more volatile for our members and shift risk away from the organization.
In New Hampshire, energy is a relatively male-dominated field. You came to the co-op after working in Colorado. Is that the case there as well?
It definitely is. There have been pretty big strides taken, I would say, over the last five to 10 years. More and more women, you’re seeing them take the helm of some pretty good-sized utilities. But especially in the co-op-world it’s been maybe a little slower to move that way. I think when you can bring some diversity to the table, it’s always a good thing, right? Because then you get diversity of experience, diversity of thought, diversity of ideas.
Why has diversifying the field been a challenge?
Well, I think its role models. It’s easier when you have someone to follow – when they’ve done this and you can see a path. I sit on a call once a month with a group of women CEOs. We talk about this all the time: How do we mentor? How do you deal with challenges that you face being a woman in this world?
I didn’t have any female mentors in the industry. And that’s something that a lot of the women CEOs that I talk to today, we all talk about, we did not have that person actually working in industry that was like us.
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