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What the latest UN climate report means for N.H.

Wind turbines in a field in Adair, Iowa.
Wind turbines in a field in Adair, Iowa.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, or IPCC, released a report yesterday showing that we are currently headed for disastrous levels of climate change, but leaders have the tools to act quickly to reduce greenhouse gas emissions across all sectors.

All Things Considered host Peter Biello spoke with Chris Skoglund, Director of Energy Transition at Clean Energy New Hampshire, about what the IPCC report means and what the transition to clean energy could look like in New Hampshire.

NHPR will continue to update this reporting.

Below is a transcript of their conversation.

Peter Biello: Chris, New Hampshire is the only state in New England that doesn't have set climate goals. What does this report from IPCC say about what's needed from states like New Hampshire?

Chris Skoglund: The findings were very clear, and they're consistent with what they've been saying for nearly 30 years now, that climate change is real, already happening, and it's human-caused, and therefore it's incumbent on all states and nations to be reducing greenhouse gas emissions as rapidly as possible, getting as close to zero fossil fuel consumption, minimal land use change, within the next 30 to 50 years.

Peter Biello: What makes it immediate right now and what can be done right now, do you think? Or what needs to be done right now to limit the impact of climate change? Is it by focusing on transportation? Is it focusing on weatherization of houses? Is it an all of the above approach? What would you say is the best way to go about that?

Chris Skoglund: So, this is where it becomes fun and it's almost an ecosystem of energy options. It's not just one thing. Any group that kind of wants to champion their solution, they should, but recognize that it complements everything else out there. The IPCC has this fabulous chart that indicates that some of the greatest reductions will come from wind and solar. So, the expansion of electrical generation, clean energy generation, but with the intention of complementing electrification efforts in buildings and in the transportation sector. So, as we switch over houses to run off heat pumps, providing both heating and cooling, as well as switching over to electric vehicles, away from gas and diesel engines and to all battery powered vehicles, the power supply to those new electrical end uses is clean, so it zeroes out the emissions in the facilities and in the vehicles that are now operating with clean energy. So, we have to expand the amount of clean energy that we're producing, but it's to meet a new electrical need that we would see in the transportation and the building sector.

Peter Biello: Are there areas in which we have made progress and how would you describe that progress, if so?

Chris Skoglund: I think if you look regionally and at New Hampshire in particular, we have made progress in the electric sector. There's already been a significant gain in terms of energy efficiency and renewable energy, even small scale renewable energy within New England, that has caused our greenhouse gas emissions from the electric sector to fall every single year. And that has been significant. Because New Hampshire feeds its electric electricity into a regional market we've actually seen our greenhouse gas emissions in the electric sector fall by 75%, representing 90% of New Hampshire's greenhouse gas reductions. But that's been driven by regional cooperation through the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative that's really helped transition the market and pave the way so that we can be bringing in more electric vehicles and those heat pumps to be running on a clean energy grid.

Peter Biello: I wanted to ask you a little bit about what it's like from the consumer level and making it a bit more equitable because not everybody can afford an electric car or the infrastructure that comes along with it, like a special plug for your home so you can plug it in. Not everybody can afford to make the investment in solar panels, for example. What needs to happen to make the transition to renewable energy more equitable?

Chris Skoglund: So that is an excellent question. And I'll be honest, I'm sitting in a house that's renewably heated and powered and we have an electric vehicle. And some of that came with a significant amount of sacrifice on our part by paying for our energy up front. So I think one thing I will say [is] that for some middle incomes, there is this question of, when will it be affordable? It's affordable right now. And it just requires us to think a little bit differently about our energy. I've paid for all of the infrastructure up front, but we've locked in lower energy prices and even zero energy prices for some of our energy systems for the duration of the time that we'll be in this home.

Peter Biello: So, are you suggesting - are you saying that that people in middle incomes do have the ability to sort of make the investment up front?

Chris Skoglund: Yeah, it is, I will admit, sometimes credit dependent. One thing that's important to recognize is that as we invest in energy efficiency, as we invest in these new technologies, there may be and will be those families, those communities that are locked out for some time because they don't have that credit. They don't have that upfront capital to access this technology. But the more that we can kind of push on levers that support the energy transmission, the faster that, actually, there will be great benefits that benefit everybody. If we're using an electric vehicle and it's upper or middle income families that are charging that vehicle overnight, when electricity costs are lowest, they're not going to have a negative impact on everyone's rates. In fact, they're using the electrical grid more efficiently. They're spreading the fixed electrical costs over new sources of electricity consumption. That ends up having a positive benefit for everybody by reducing our distribution energy costs. So, this is where the energy transition can help everybody.

Peter Biello: So let me ask you, because it sounds like what you're saying, that middle and higher income people will benefit most directly from the initiatives and innovations that you're describing and those on the lowest end of the economic spectrum will benefit indirectly. Are the goals spelled out in the IPCC report achievable if those on the lowest end of the economic spectrum are only reaping the benefits immediately in an indirect way?

Chris Skoglund: Oh, no. And no. That was not my intention of explaining it that way. The entire economy needs to transition to a decarbonized one so that we're looking at having a transition where the earliest benefits would be felt indirectly. But helping people overcome that first cost as rapidly as possible will allow them to get the direct benefits, the reduced energy costs over the life of the equipment. So it's kind of this adoption curve that I was emphasizing, not saying that low income or socioeconomic groups would be foreclosed from participating in this. They absolutely have to in order for the goals to be met. But they absolutely have to because it's right for them to be able to access the same sorts of energy production costs as any other group, primarily because they have a higher energy burden. They spend a greater share of their income on energy costs. So, by helping and facilitating them taking part in this energy transition, they'll actually reap bigger direct benefits to their home, having a higher quality of life, better comfort, but lower costs. And those dollars can then be spent on other things that are necessary in their lives.

Peter Biello: Chris Skoglund, director of Energy Transition at Clean Energy New Hampshire, thank you very much for speaking with me.

Chris Skoglund: Thank you for having me, Peter.

Peter Biello: Really appreciate it. And for more of our coverage on climate change, visit nhpr.org.

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