State senators are working on a bill that would have New Hampshire spur the development of major offshore wind projects and other renewable energy in the region.
The bill comes from state Sen. David Watters, a Dover Democrat. He previewed it at a late-December meeting of a bipartisan Senate wind commission, and said the aim is to create new zero-carbon energy and bring jobs to the state.
His proposal would have New Hampshire work with utilities such as Eversource to request developer proposals for 600 megawatts of offshore wind, and up to 200 megawatts more of wind or other renewables such as hydropower or biomass.
A new state committee would take public input on the proposals, due by mid-2022, and consider economic and environmental effects in selecting winning bids for the governor and regulators’ approval.
The state would then require participating utilities to ink long-term contracts between utilities and the chosen projects, funded by ratepayers. The power would feed into the New England grid and count toward New Hampshire’s renewable energy goals, which aim to decrease the carbon emissions that are warming the planet.
Watters said his bill will be “agnostic” about where the associated wind and other energy projects are located – meaning they could come from Southern New England or elsewhere.
He said it’s because the Gulf of Maine, which includes New Hampshire's coast, is still as much as a decade away from federal approval for turbine development.
“My feeling is that we can start attracting industry now,” Watters said. “They’re getting maxed out in some of the port facilities in Southern New England. We have a lot of suppliers up here who might contribute to the supply chain and manufacturing. And so this will enhance our participation, so that when it does come to the Gulf of Maine, we have an opportunity get even more of that business.”
Massachusetts-based consultant John Dalton suggested that offshore wind in the Northeast will have a cohesive onshore supply chain across state lines, even with separate offshore development areas opening up years apart.
“It is important to get moving soon if you’re going to capture these economic benefits,” Dalton said. “The industry is making locational decisions now. So waiting for six years, I think that much of the industry will be well under development and some of the critical decisions will have been made.”
Watters said he has some bipartisan support for the procurement bill in the Senate, and he hopes to get Gov. Chris Sununu on board before the plan goes to the House.
Both chambers are now under Republican control, and climate advocates say they’re pessimistic about getting much support for renewable energy growth in the House especially.
Sununu showed strong support for offshore wind growth in New Hampshire in his most recent term, spearheading the formation of the tri-state federal task force that’s planning Gulf of Maine lease areas.
But he’s also been skeptical of state-backed energy development programs in the past. In 2019, he vetoed another bill from Watters that would have created a study committee on the issue.
Michael Behrmann works on wind issues with Clean Energy New Hampshire and helped craft Watters’ new bill. He said the wind industry expects states to sponsor programs like this, and New Hampshire needs one if it hopes to attract jobs from the growing sector.
"These procurement efforts are really the starting point for their involvement and really gaining their attention,” Behrmann said at the recent commission meeting.
Similar programs helped kick-start the wind sector in Southern New England. Massachusetts also took this approach with the process by which it hoped to sponsor the import of Canadian hydropower from Eversource’s scuttled Northern Pass transmission line. Massachusetts is now pursuing that deal with a similar project from Central Maine Power.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article and its headline incorrectly stated that New Hampshire would fund the chosen energy projects as part of this proposed procurement process. In fact, the state state would not directly supply funding to these projects, but would require utilities to buy the power, passing the cost onto ratepayers. The headline and article have been updated to correct the error.