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Report: State Needs More Resources To Meet Energy Savings Goals

Dan Tuohy/NHPR

A new report says New Hampshire’s state government has cut back its fossil fuel and energy use in the past 15 years, but still falls well short of the goals set by a 2016 executive order.

The state owns more than 700 buildings and about 1,900 passenger vehicles and trucks. All of that uses a lot of energy, which is expensive, and emits greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change.

An order from former Gov. Maggie Hassan set ambitious goals for the state to decrease fossil fuel use and emissions of those assets to fight climate change and cut costs.

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The new report, from the Department of Administrative Services, outlines the state’s work toward those goals so far. Officials say it shows they need more resources – including staff, training and funding – to accelerate that progress.

The report says the state cut its fossil fuel use per square foot in its buildings by 21% from 2005 to 2020. The executive order’s goal was 30% by 2020, stepping up to 50% by 2030.

The state has decreased its overall fossil fuel use by 12% and its energy use by 7% since 2005, even as its square footage and energy costs have increased.

The state is now using about 80% less fuel oil, and 65% more natural gas, than in 2005. Gas causes about half the carbon emissions of coal or oil, and carries other climate impacts.

Chris Skoglund, who heads the climate and energy program at the Department of Environmental Services, said in an email that these changes lowered the state's greenhouse gas emissions by more than 38% from 2005 to 2020. 

And "while the [greenhouse gas] intensity has varied ever year as a result of the how hot summers were or cold winter may have been," Skoglund said, the state has topped 25% reductions in that category every year since 2011 compared to 2005. 

The state has introduced more wood energy and propane in its buildings in that time, installed some rooftop solar arrays, including on state-run liquor stores, and prioritized lighting upgrades and other energy efficiency improvements during renovations.

These steps have helped avoid more than $45 million in energy costs since 2005. The report says a 2020 state plan identified $21 million more in potential energy-saving projects.

Credit Google Maps
The state has installed solar panels on some of its buildings, including this liquor store that opened in Somersworth in 2019, to cut energy costs and fossil fuel usage.

“If agencies had expanded access to energy audits, retro-commissioning, energy saving performance contracts, and other tools to gather information about their buildings, significantly more cost-saving measures would be uncovered,” the report says. “At the current rate of addressing these energy inefficiencies, the State is leaving valuable savings on the table.”

The report notes that a newly created energy management fund, with unspent money from agencies’ annual energy budgets that would otherwise go back into the general fund, will help incentivize this work.

Officials suggest that the state could further reduce its fossil fuel reliance and create savings by building wind and solar projects, purchasing renewable energy through state contracts, investing in energy efficiency and converting more fossil heating fuels to sources like biomass.

“No single strategy will be able to attain the goal by itself,” the report says.

How do you think New Hampshire should address climate change? Click here to take a quick survey for our reporting project, By Degrees.

The state is also working to reduce emissions from its vehicle fleet by 30% from 2010 levels by 2030, under Hassan’s order. They were halfway there with a reduction of 15% in 2020, thanks in part to a big boost from remote work during COVID-19. It’s unclear whether that will last.

Passenger vehicles have seen the biggest overall reductions in emissions. Progress was more mixed among the state’s truck fleet, much of which relies on diesel fuel. The state report also notes that fuel economy in the fleet has been almost completely stagnant in the past decade.

Officials are looking to hire a contractor to make telematics – vehicle devices that track driving behavior – a part of the state’s fleet management. The report says that could cut fuel use by as much as 15% and streamline the rollout of electric vehicles and charging infrastructure.

Transportation accounted for almost half of New Hampshire’s emissions as of 2017, according to the Department of Environmental Services. While emissions from electricity generation fell sharply in recent years, transportation and other emissions sources remained relatively flat.

This story was updated with details on New Hampshire's greenhouse gas emissions reductions. 

Annie has covered the environment, energy, climate change and the Seacoast region for NHPR since 2017. She leads the newsroom's climate reporting project, By Degrees.

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