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Climate Change

Petition Asks Sununu For Exec. Order Telling N.H. Utilities To Invest In Offshore Wind Energy

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Dennis Schroeder
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National Renewable Energy Labs

Renewable energy supporters want Gov. Chris Sununu to sign an executive order that would lead to more offshore wind development in New Hampshire, as neighboring states forge ahead with similar steps and after a bill on the issue stalled in the state legislature this year.

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Sununu has lately been a vocal supporter of wind as a climate change solution but hasn’t issued the mandates many other East Coast states have used to require their utilities to buy into planned offshore projects.

“It’s time for New Hampshire to join the rest of the states around us,” said Rebecca Beaulieu of the activist group 350-New Hampshire at a small rally in Portsmouth’s Prescott Park Saturday. “Governor Sununu told us he would not get in the way of offshore wind.”

Her group’s new petition asks for Sununu, by the end of this year, to order the state’s electric companies to invest in 800 megawatts of wind projects, with conditions to ensure that the energy benefits New Hampshire as directly as possible.

This so-called "procurement" would be enough to power around 400,000 homes per year. It’s the capacity of many typical, individual offshore wind farms, or two-thirds that of Seabrook Nuclear Power Plant.

wind protesters
Annie Ropeik
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NHPR
Climate activists carried pro-wind signs at a rally in Portsmouth on Aug. 14, 2021.

President Joe Biden aims to permit 35 gigawatts of offshore wind in the U.S. by 2030, starting with Vineyard Wind off the south coast of Massachusetts. New Hampshire's largest utility, Eversource, is already working with international partners on wind development in the region.

Why did offshore wind take so long to arrive in the U.S. – and what will it mean now that it’s here? Listen now to ‘Windfall,’ a special podcast series from NHPR’s Outside/In.

New Hampshire State Sen. David Watters co-sponsored a bipartisan wind bill that mirrored the new petition earlier this year. It passed the Senate Energy Committee on a 23-1 vote but was held back in Senate Finance.

“Why are we stalling here in New Hampshire? Why don’t we get moving on this?” Watters, a Democrat from Dover and the chair of the state’s offshore wind commission, said at the rally Saturday. “Why don’t we transform our power?”

The petition, which Watters also supports, asks for Sununu’s order to require in-state job creation and other environmental justice benefits as part of utility wind investment.

“It puts New Hampshire in the driver’s seat,” he said of the process of procuring wind power for the state through this kind of utility mandate.

“We can ensure the jobs come here, we can ensure the clean energy benefits New Hampshire, we can protect our fisheries, we can build up our workforce, and that’s why all the other states that are in the offshore wind development are doing procurements.”

Sununu's support for offshore wind evolves

Sununu had not signaled whether he would support Watters’ bill on the subject before it died this past spring. Two years ago, he vetoed a separate Watters bill that would have set up a study committee on renewable energy procurement.

That same year, after sustained pressure from activists, Sununu asked federal regulators to launch the tri-state task force that will plan wind development in the Gulf of Maine. It met only once before the pandemic. The petition asks Sununu to call for it to re-convene.

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Annie Ropeik
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NHPR
Governor Chris Sununu speaks at the first - and, so far, only - meeting of a federal tri-state task force planning wind development in the Gulf of Maine, at UNH in December 2019.

The governor’s position, both on offshore wind and the climate science that says this kind of zero-carbon energy is necessary, has evolved in the past few years. He called procurement “a great idea” at the Executive Council’s meeting on Aug. 4.

This story is part of By Degrees, NHPR's climate change reporting project. Sign up for our newsletter today to get our latest stories delivered to your inbox.

At a recent press conference, Sununu cast wind as one of his top goals for reducing the state's dependence on fossil fuels, when asked by NHPR about his response to the recent "code red" climate science report from the United Nations.

"Obviously New Hampshire's always been a very environmentally conscious state," Sununu said. "I've been a huge proponent of offshore wind… It's not like we can change that paradigm simply in a couple years, but starting that process, making those investments, designing those systems… is I think a big part of where we can be."

Sununu also named solar power for low-income residents as a goal. But activists say Sununu lags on encouraging that change, including through many vetoes of related bills in recent years.

New Hampshire has the region’s lowest and shortest-term goal for renewable energy use, with no statutory target for reducing planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions.