3 takeaways from the 2023 NH Energy Summit
The New Hampshire Energy Summit was held at the Holiday Inn in Concord on Monday, Sept. 18. (Getty Images)
The New Hampshire Energy Summit convened industry stakeholders in Concord this week to hash out policy issues of the moment and set the stage for the upcoming legislative session.
It was the 11th annual event hosted by the Dupont Group, a consulting firm specializing in government affairs and public relations.
Players from across the state’s energy sector probed the changing face of default energy service, as new players like the Community Power Coalition of New Hampshire step into the game and regulated utilities explore ways to lower the impacts of price volatility. They discussed the future of the state’s Site Evaluation Committee, which was just tweaked by lawmakers once again following a failed attempt to dissolve it entirely.
Panel discussions also looked at hydrogen as an emerging, attractive “clean fuel,” as well as active dockets in front of the Public Utilities Commission deserving attention.
Here are three major takeaways from this year’s summit:
Eversource: Price volatility will remain until new resources come online
As a “natural gas-dominant region” that doesn’t create any of its own, New England is subject to changing market forces around the imported global commodity. That means natural gas prices – heavily influenced by the war between Russia and Ukraine – typically spike in January and February. The region most acutely feels its pipeline capacity challenges when the needs of home heating and electric generators collide, creating a reliability concern.
That won’t change anytime soon, said Parker Littlehale, Eversource’s manager of wholesale supply, unless new energy projects make some headway.
“From our perspective, this dynamic is likely to continue until significant new resources come online,” he said. “New England will remain in this winter pricing dynamic that is at play.”
Those resources could be offshore wind power, the planned 146-mile New England Clean Energy Connect running through Maine to the Canadian border, or future bids selected by the state’s regulated utilities for long-term procurement contracts, just signed into law this summer.
Receiving bipartisan support, the new law allows Eversource, Unitil, and Liberty Utilities to enter into fixed-price contracts of up to 20 years with new resources – a mechanism to stabilize costs while diversifying the power mix.
ISO New England’s interconnection queue – projects that are awaiting connection to the regional electric grid – shows 23 projects in New Hampshire, accounting for more than 1,200 megawatts of solar and 400 megawatts of storage.
Community power forecasted to be second-largest default service provider in the state
Community power just made its debut in the Granite State in May, and yet, it’s already forecasted to be the second-largest default service provider in the state in 2024, said Brian Callnan, CEO of the nonprofit Community Power Coalition of New Hampshire.
The coalition boasts the lowest default service energy cost in the state. Its initial rate in 10 communities was 15.8 cents per kilowatt-hour, representing a 20 to 40 percent savings compared to the state’s utility companies.
The default electric service rate reflects how much it costs a utility to procure energy and is subject to changing market forces of the moment. Community power allows participating cities and towns to buy electricity instead of traditional utility companies, enabling bulk purchasing and expansion of renewable energy options. Utilities continue to charge for transmission and delivery service.
In communities that have opted for community power, electricity customers are automatically enrolled unless they decide to opt out.
As of this month, the Community Power Coalition has 38 municipal members and one county, meaning about 25 percent of the state population is participating in “nonprofit local control decisionmaking on your energy supply and energy needs for a community,” Callnan said.
There are a lot of opinions about the Site Evaluation Committee
Three panelists discussing the state’s Site Evaluation Committee each had starkly different opinions about its future, reflective of testimony heard last legislative session when a bill initially sought to dissolve the current siting process and move responsibilities to the Public Utilities Commission.
The SEC is the state’s regulatory review and permitting body with representation from multiple sectors that has jurisdiction over any new energy facility proposal that generates more than 30 megawatts of electricity. It’s shown inefficiencies over the years, stakeholders have said, and there have been several attempts to reform it, or as seen this year, get rid of it.
The Legislature was ultimately able to pass two changes as part of a larger omnibus bill: transferring compliance and enforcement responsibilities to the Department of Energy and clarifying that permitting requirements that fall under the jurisdiction of a state agency are not to be re-adjudicated in front of the SEC.
Mark Sanborn, the outgoing assistant commissioner at the Department of Environmental Services, said he would “eliminate the SEC” and believes the permitting process should go through state agencies.
Amy Manzelli, an attorney at BCM Environmental and Land Law, said the SEC is “not broken” and doesn’t need to be fixed. Rather, she said, “it’s imperfect and needs fine tuning.”
Much of the conflict surrounding the SEC was born out of the three-year process for the controversial 192-mile Northern Pass project, which ultimately ended in a denial. Manzelli argued that timeline was appropriate for what was one of the largest energy projects ever proposed in the state.
The current SEC process “sites with care,” she said, and should take years, not months, for big proposals.
Jim Andrews, president and CEO of Granite Shore Power, the owner of Merrimack Station in Bow and four other generating stations, found himself somewhere in the middle. He called for a “more efficient” siting process because it’s “imperative that we encourage capital (to)l be deployed here.” If it takes too long to evaluate a project, he said, “cost, technology, and financing” can all change within that time frame – in some cases, sealing a project’s failure.
Andrews feels the process should be optimized for sites that have existing infrastructure.
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