What's Next for Renewable Energy Projects in N.H.?

Aug 7, 2019

A solar installation in Peterborough at the Nubanusit Neighborhood and Farm.
Credit Amy Quinton for NHPR

The recent defeat of Northern Pass was a major setback for the import of large-scale hydropower into the region.  Meanwhile, efforts to build more solar and wind power are still underway… and some towns and cities have set their own renewable goals. We'll look at the reliability of these technologies… and  talk about their role in the future of our region’s power grid. 

GUESTS:

  • Charlotte Ancel - Director of Clean Energy Strategy, Policy and Development for Eversource
  • Madeleine Mineau - Executive director of Clean Energy NH.
  • Annie Ropeik - Reporter on energy, environment, and the seacoast of N.H.  Read her reporting here.
  • Bob Sanders - Staff writer for the N.H. Business Review. Read NHBR's coverage of energy and the environment here

Transcript:

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Laura Knoy:
From New Hampshire Public Radio, I'm Laura Knoy and this is The Exchange.

For almost a decade, the Northern Pass hydropower proposal dominated many discussions of renewable energy in our state. But now that project is off the table and we're hearing more about other players, some with big plans for solar fields and wind farms. And so post Northern Pass. How should companies approach New Hampshire, for example? Should they think small when it comes to renewables instead of large projects which may disrupt landscapes and upset neighbors? This consideration and many others are now at play across the state as some cities and towns set their own renewable goals today in exchange. What's next for renewables in New Hampshire?

Laura Knoy:
We have three guests with us in studio, Madeleine Mineau, executive director of Clean Energy, New Hampshire, whose members include businesses, individuals and municipalities. And Madeleine, nice to see you. Thank you for being here.

Madeleine Mineau:
Thanks so much. My pleasure to be here.

Laura Knoy:
Also with us, Charlotte Ancel, director of Clean Energy Strategy, Policy and Development For Eversource and Charlotte. Thank you for your time. We appreciate it.

Charlotte Ancel:
Happy to be here.

Laura Knoy:
Also with us, Bob Sanders, staff writer for New Hampshire Business Review. Bob has been covering the growth of energy company project proposals here in the state. And Bob, welcome back. Thanks for being here, as usual.

Bob Sanders:
Great to be here.

Laura Knoy:
And also with us, Annie Ropeik, reporter on energy, environment and the seacoast of New Hampshire and a frequent guest here in The Exchange. Annie, thank you so much.

Annie Ropeik:
Thanks for having me.

Laura Knoy:
Well, Annie to start with you, lots of terms when we talk about this renewable alternative, green clean. What's the difference, Annie, and why does word choice matter?

Annie Ropeik:
Well, I think a lot of these terms we hear for these types of fuels are more more like marketing terms. They're not technical terms. So there's no, you know, technical jargon behind green or clean. Those are sort of used to denote certain goals that those fools, however sorts of political connotations potentially. I mean, you'll hear Green used in almost a derogatory way these days as much as you'll hear it used in a positive way.

Laura Knoy:
Oh, really?

Annie Ropeik:
I mean, I think to some people that is a negative connotation into others as positive. Right. And so a lot of those terms carry those kinds of distinctions. I tend to use renewable, but I will say that that doesn't necessarily cover sort of non fuel things like energy efficiency or some of the sort of grid modernization stuff. We're going to talk about distributed energy, all of those sorts of jargon terms. So alternative energy would probably be the broadest possible term and that would just be alternatives to fossil fuels most broadly of all. And so it's not alternative as in, you know, like old culturally, but but just an alternative to to the petroleum products that we've been using the power grid for for centuries.

Laura Knoy:
And Madeleine, you've got the word clean in your group's title again, the Clean Energy, NH. So why did you choose clean instead of renewable or alternative or non fossil?

Madeleine Mineau:
Yeah, we actually used to be called the New Hampshire Sustainable Energy Association. Another word. OK. And you know, for our organization, there's sort of the ideal the the better and the good and the stuff we're trying to move away from. So there's really a broad spectrum of technologies we try to advocate most for the ideal, which is the wind, solar, all renewable technologies. Our organization also advocates for biomass, for example. Some environmental organizations in New Hampshire don't think that that's an ideal form of energy to to include in our mix. So, you know, everyone has different terms. And for us, clean is where we're trying to get to. There's a lot of different clean technologies as well as energy efficiency and things like demand response, where you control when you use energy to make it more beneficial and more economical for everyone.

Laura Knoy:
Go ahead, Annie.

Annie Ropeik:
And I should have just added that, you know, to define renewable, this means forms of energy that are not a finite resource the way that oil and gas is. So wind is there's always going to be wind that's out there regardless of whether we're harnessing it. Same for solar power. Then you get into things like biomass, which are a little bit more debatable, I guess, as far as how renewable they are, why they're renewable. You can say that things like corn ethanol and wood fired power are renewable in the sense that you can replant them and they are sustainable in that way. But they're you know, you have to replant them in order to harvest them. They're not just out there.

Laura Knoy:
And there's A lot of debate as to whether they're actually clean.

Annie Ropeik:
Right. And then clean as far as how clean they burn. So the burning of fossil fuels obviously emits carbon dioxide. That's warming the atmosphere, causing dangerous climate change. And so these clean alternative technologies would either have less emissions, no emissions. And you know, though, the ultimate goal of this debate is really to address the climate change problem.

Laura Knoy:
So, Charlotte, you've got the word clean in your title, your director of Clean Energy Strategy for Eversource. So I'd love your thoughts there to.

Charlotte Ancel:
Yeah, and Eversource were committed to serving our customers and reflecting back to them what they tell us they want, what our policy makers tell us they want. So we're really focused on reducing greenhouse gas emissions for the state and for the reason for the region. We see us marching toward a zero carbon grid that zero carbon grids going to have at a macro level, two parts.

Charlotte Ancel:
The first part are large renewable resources like offshore wind, solar. Those resources will provide the baseload. So the the overall power that we use to serve New Hampshire customers. But then we know that we're we're evolving from a fossil fuel based system. And so we're going to have different types of things to manage through. So, for example, sometimes the wind stops blowing and the sun sun's stops shining.

Charlotte Ancel:
And so that leads us to the second part of our vision of the zero carbon grid, which is dispatching all resources, meaning resources that we can turn up and down that actually use energy and reduce them at times when the bountiful renewable energy is less abundant on the grid. So let me give you some examples. Electric vehicle chargers. So we're really excited about electric vehicles and their presence on the grid. And we expect that we'll be able to aggregate folks charging in their homes and businesses and turn them down during energy peaks when energy uses otherwise most abundant. Same thing with batteries, both big batteries and smaller batteries that will be able to store energy when it's plentiful and put it back onto the grid when it's needed most.

Laura Knoy:
Wow a zero carbon grid.

Laura Knoy:
Charlotte, that's huge.

Charlotte Ancel:
That's where we're going.

Laura Knoy:
I you know, I'm not gonna ask you when you think we'll get there, but that's really interesting. What's it gonna take? Bob Sanders to get to a zero carbon grid?

Bob Sanders:
Well, we're at our actually. It depends if you just talk about carbon. We do an environmental movements. Is there certain fads going on? There's a you know, right now, carbon is it. And we don't think about anything else. So nuclear power, for instance, we get half our energy from nuclear power. No carbon. Now it's nuclear power. Clean. Well, talk about people where live around where you put the waste. Talk about people live by. You know, talk about people who've been around, you know, when Three Mile Island and Chernobyl happened. So but lots of debate there. Zero carbon. So that's hard. We're already half there than 50 percent.

Bob Sanders:
And then you have 20 percent of our renewables already come from from hydro and bio. Now, that's a pretty big chunk, too. Yeah, of course, bio produces carbon. It's renewable, but it produces carbon that you know, that just like coal does not as much. But and hydro has its own environmental effects. Hydro. You have to chop down trees for hydro that you have to drop chop down trees for large scale solar. I mean, on the whole, it's it's better to you know, it's better for the environment. I mean, when you just talk about strictly carbon, it's better and for the environment to chop down those trees and have coal. But there are other factors, too.

Laura Knoy:
Well, and you covered a project. I think it was in Peterborough.

Bob Sanders:
Fitzwilliam.

Laura Knoy:
Fitzwilliam. OK. Yeah.

Laura Knoy:
And just tell us a little bit about that, because that kind of exemplifies the tradeoffs that you're talking about right now,.

Bob Sanders:
That there's the big, big change that's happening around the country and it's coming to New Hampshire is these large utility solar projects now. These aren't forget about all these things you've heard about net metering and rooftop solar and so forth. These are you don't get any help basically from the government. Just except that the states require a certain amount of solar. They have a request for proposals in Massachusetts. A, they have a bid for sort of for renewable energy projects, clean or whatever. And some of those projects are large scale solar. So this Fitzwilliam ones, I think they they have a contract with one of these states they think is Connecticut, where they they have to clear about 100 acres of trees to set up their solar farm. Well, it sounds like a lot of trees. It's a lot of trees, but it's also a lot of solar. It's about 30 megawatts, which is it's almost, you know, considering we have like I don't know, how much do we have already? We have 300 megawatts, one tenth already. Just that one project of all our solar capacity. So and there's other projects, too, being proposed as one for 50. So, yeah. And then there's a group of 120. So there's a lot of big solar coming in the state that's actually going then she's going out of the state for these other states that have the the the law that says we want big solar.

Laura Knoy:
Well, that gives you a question that I really want to ask everybody about state policy, because it's been a lot going on, a lot to keep track of.

Laura Knoy:
And I have so many more questions for all of you. Let's go to our listeners as well. And Tim's calling from Portsmouth. Hi, Tim. You're on the air. Welcome.

Caller:
Good morning. And and thanks for taking my call. So I am on the planning board in my little town. I live in Mount Vernon. And we have noticed over the last few years that some of the RSA, some of the state statues having to do with zoning issues have been suddenly changed so as to make things make it slightly easier for people to use their land. So that said, I was wondering if we were seeing justice insist that this is almost verbatim what you just interrupt the state activity. I was wondering where our state as in terms of promoting renewable energy making. Things a little bit easier. I'm not even talking subsidies, I'm just saying removing roadblocks, making things a little bit easier to develop renewable sources of energy. And I'm particularly interested in the answer because it appears that we have a governor who seems to be closely allied with the fossil fuel industry. And I'm so I'm I'm I'm wondering if anything is happening on that front. I know just recently I noticed that wind farm that was in the talking development stages for 10 long years finally got underway in Antrim, New Hampshire. It's nine turbines.

Laura Knoy:
And yes, I've driven past it many times, Tim, and I really appreciate the call because I did want to ask all of our guests. And Annie, I'll start with you, but go down the line. What does New Hampshire state policy say right now about renewables? We'll talk about cities and towns in a moment. But what do we say and not say at the state level?

Annie Ropeik:
Yeah, it's a great question, Tim. And it's important to bring in not just subsidies, but that there are so many other ways that the state can either support or hinder development of renewables, or can, I think, to use the governor's own words, play favorites with different kinds of fuels or really perpetuate this all of the above strategies that we've. So so. So that's the strategy. We've seen the Sununu administration stand by his so-called all of the above strategy where he doesn't want to be singling out solar, for example, for special subsidies. Of course, we know that oil and gas have been subsidized federally and in other ways for decades. And so the idea that this is already a level playing field or a free market, is it a little bit of a is a little bit misleading, in my opinion. But but regardless, we've seen the state not want to go out of its way to push the development of large scale renewables or small scale renewables, the way that, as Tim says, states like Massachusetts or sorry hubs, states like Massachusetts and Connecticut have done so there.

Annie Ropeik:
That being said, the Democratic led legislature this year has been this has really pushed hard for all kinds of different renewable policies.

Annie Ropeik:
A few of which have made it past the governor's desk and several of which have been vetoed. And Madeleine probably speak more to how many of those we anticipate might be able to be overridden this year. Net metering is one of those, which is where people can develop solar power and sell it back to the grid and then also all the way on up to study commission for these large scale clean energy procurements like Massachusetts have done. New Hampshire wanted to look at doing that. Senators said no thanks. And so we'll see if that veto gets over it.

Laura Knoy:
Well, there has been a lot going on. So to next day, I think. Madeleine, what do you think is important about state policy in terms of where it stands now?

Madeleine Mineau:
Yeah, I think there is a lot of of leadership and direction lacking in where New Hampshire wants to go regarding our our energy and our our goals. Here in New Hampshire, we only have an aspirational goal for reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. Several of our neighboring states in New England have strong goals in statute to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions by a certain date. So they have to do it. Ours is we'd like to do. It'd be nice if we get there, right. So we are renewable portfolio standard, which is one of the main policies that many, many states have used to achieve those goals. Currently, we're only aiming to get to 25 percent renewable energy by 2025. There's a lot of things that, you know, really we could do as a state to, you know, without talking about costs to just make it more clear that this is the direction we're trying to get to.

Madeleine Mineau:
And I think it's important remember that renewable energy, distributed generation, energy efficiency are really cost savers. The most important cost drivers for everyone in the grid is peak demand. When we use a lot of electricity, when it's really hot outside or here in New England, when we're using natural gas for heating our homes and the power plants can't use it, that's when the prices spike. And that's what's causing really the costs for everyone. So if we can use our energy more efficiently, if we can use things like solar that produced during those really high peak demands in the summer, we're really helping drive everyone's costs down here in New Hampshire, where the only state that ISO New England is predicting to have continued increasing peak demand. And that means that more and more of the regional costs are going to shift to New Hampshire if our share gets bigger. We're going to pay more of the regional costs.

Laura Knoy:
Go ahead. Love to hear from you on this state policy.

Laura Knoy:
Why it matters.

Charlotte Ancel:
State policy. Let me give you the the view from the ground. I'm going to use an example of what we're doing right now, today at Eversource. So our job is to reliably serve our customers. We've got a town out in the western part of the state, the town of Westmoreland. I understand one of the earliest towns that was settled in New Hampshire. That town is a beautiful town, about eighteen hundred residue. It's very rural, wooded, rolling, beautiful landscape, has some of the worst reliability statistics in our service territory because there are trees everywhere and it's served by one single line. And that line understandably in storms, especially with any reference climate change we're seeing now, the storm of the century, every year to two years goes out all the time. So we've been working on, well, what can we do to serve our customers better there? The traditional solution would be to build a second redundant, redundant power line coming out from keen to serve those customers. That, in our mind, is kind of an example of doing the same thing all over again, expecting a different result because trees can just as easily hit that line. So instead, we're proposed to partner with the town to build a large scale battery that will provide backup for the entire town for about five hours. Given us more than enough time to roll trucks and fix the power outage with no interruption to our customers, we will also use that battery to reduce energy peaks, reducing costs for all customers.

Laura Knoy:
Relating to a Madeleine said.

Laura Knoy:
So coming up, I want to talk more about policy, why it matters what happened in the legislature this year and take a lot more of your calls, Tim. Thank you for that one. This is The Exchange on an HP.

Laura Knoy:
This is The Exchange I'm Laura Knoy and today. What's next for renewable energy in New Hampshire? There's been a lot of debate at the legislative level, but meanwhile, some cities and towns are setting their own renewable energy goals and companies have many proposals at play now in the state. Some large, some small. We're finding out more. We have four guests in studio. Charlotte Ancel is here, director of Clean Energy Strategy, Policy and Development for Eversource. Madeleine Mineau, executive director of Clean Energy NH, whose members include businesses, individuals and municipalities. Annie Ropeik's here, REPORTER on energy, environment and the seacoast of New Hampshire. And Bob Sanders, staff writer for NH Business Review. And Bob has been covering the growth of energy project proposals around the state. And Bob, I did want to let you jump in on that question you're talking about just before the break. How do you see energy policy at the state level? We'll talk cities and towns in a moment at the state level.

Changing, Bob,.

Bob Sanders:
That right now there's a struggle going on between Democrats and and and the governor over over the direction of energy policy at the. Compared to the surrounding states, New Hampshire is is less friendly to renewables, let's say, than than every other state around us. And as a result, we're way behind in terms of efficiency and and solar. And so there's an effort to try to change that. The word that comes up so there, for instance, there of the number of bills, the most important ones, about six of them have been energy bills have been vetoed by Governor Sununu. Now, one of the biggest has to do with net metering and it gets complicated. I'll try to make it really sharp.

Laura Knoy:
We did a whole show on net metering just on that one topic alone. But go ahead, Bob. All right.

So there's there's a net metering, your street. There's two types of net metering. One is the small residential. And and then there's the commercial. The the there was a whole debate about what's a fair rate goes up the utilities and some business groups are saying it's a subsidy. And other people say, you know, the people are saying that, no, it's not only it's a fair rate, but we're actually subsidizing utilities because the the rate doesn't cover distribution. But on the other hand, we help the utilities out because where there is less distribution around us because you don't have to build plants. And we also since is behind the meter, we get extra money from the ISO, the whole regional grid.

Laura Knoy:
We're helping out. So.

Bob Sanders:
So you've got to figure all this out. PUC tried to figure all this out. They came to a deal. And the big the big the big deal or a big contention was over this small little homeowner, not the business, everybody. So I said, well, the business that's kind of fair will will mess around a little bit with that. And they came up with a deal. So now what the Democrats want to do is expand that deal for the commercial from 1 to 5. So it's like a lot megawatt and shit happens. We should say, yeah.

Bob Sanders:
For towns and well, whatever, whatever the system is, come or not, not residential, let's put it that way. So we're talking a difference between, let's say a small strip mall or a big or mall. New Hampshire, we're talking a difference between of, you know, a grocery store and or even Wal-Mart. And B, you know, a massive campus. We're talking a difference between a few minutes buildings and like like or like a city.

Bob Sanders:
So so we would really jump. We're still way behind the the utility solar. I mean, we're still seeing utility scale that you really are still still big. So that's what the jump is. And it would be the same rate. And that's the rate that is being called a subsidy now.

Laura Knoy:
So it depends on how you define it. I just want to clarify for the listeners that when you say rate, the rate is what that individual or that business gets paid when it produces excess solar power and sells it back.

Laura Knoy:
Right. The utility. Do you pay?

Laura Knoy:
Would you pay one rate or the other? That's right. What? You can call it a differential in terms of the rate. You can call it a subsidy.

Bob Sanders:
Right. And that's that's the big debate.

Laura Knoy:
OK. Very big debate. Go ahead. Go ahead. Madeleine.

Madeleine Mineau:
On that Topic. I just want to clarify that you said that this is something that Democrats want to do. A very similar bill passed in the. Later last year, when we had Republican majorities, this bill has equal Republican, Democrat co-sponsors of the bill, it passed a similar bill passed unanimously in the Senate and had very strong Republican support in the House as well. So I really want to clarify that this is strongly bipartisan and not an initiative of the Democrats.

Laura Knoy:
And this is, again, to allow more companies, municipalities, individuals to sell more solar power on to the regular grid. Madeleine.

Madeleine Mineau:
Not really to sell more into the grid. So currently only projects up to 1 megawatt in capacity can participate in net metering. And I want to clarify, it's not just solar are small Hydro's participate in net metering combined heat and power, biomass boilers can participate net metering. Wow. All sorts of renewable technologies can participate in net metering. And really, this is intended so that larger energy users like businesses and municipalities, we're seeing a lot a lot of demand and support for this legislation from municipalities so that they can participate in net metering right. Size a project.

Madeleine Mineau:
They will still mostly use most of the energy behind the meter. But on the weekend or in the summer, when a school is closed, they can put excess generation onto the grid so that it's not wasted. And so they've been sold to their neighbor. And it also allows them to participate in what's called group net metering. So you can generate energy in one location. For example, a town that has a landfill, they could put solar there and then you can group net meter. It's a other accounts. So the town hall, the library, the school and get credits from the generation in one location onto the other accounts.

Laura Knoy:
Go ahead. Annie, and then Go back to our listeners. Yeah.

Annie Ropeik:
So I wanted to broaden this out a little bit, which listen to the callers that, you know, this is part of what we talk about, what we say, distributed generation. So this is not single projects. But with Madeleine was just talking about is the idea that you put more control of the energy system of how it's used or who gets to use it, who has access to it when it's used, more of that control goes into the hands of the consumers and of the local level, the companies, the municipalities, as opposed to them just getting energy piped to their, you know, space from the utility. It's set in stone. They can't control it.

Annie Ropeik:
So this is just one way that sort of the local level is able to have more flexibility around energy, which arguably is one way that we can save costs, that we can reduce our energy use at times of peak demand or when it's expensive, that kind of thing. And so net metering and group net metering are one way to do that. We also had a bill that was just signed that will allow towns to do what's called municipal aggregation, where basically they can provide more ways for local people to buy into a sort of local power structure. And the town basically becomes the power broker for for those local residents.

Laura Knoy:
So, Charlotte, how do big utilities like Eversource view all these smaller individual producers, be they towns, be the, you know, homeowners, be they businesses sort of feeding into the grid, often on and winning if that gets complicated for you guys?

Charlotte Ancel:
Yeah, we at Eversource believe that customers who want to net meter, meaning a customer that wants to generate their own power, use that, power it and consume it and then sell the excess back onto the grid or pull off from the grid if they're there. Solar power isn't generating because the sun's behind a cloud. We support that. We do point out I just clarify one thing that Bob said. Appreciate what he said. One thing that's important to remember is to the extent that there are extra costs developed by expanding out net metering. All of those costs are passed back to other New Hampshire customers. So we do watch in terms of sustainability of the design of the program. We are don't take a position specifically on the five megawatt cap, but we do look for opportunities to be helpful where we can. And we've proposed, for example, to support a community solar initiative that will provide as much as 20 megawatts of solar power opportunity for partnerships between municipalities and third party developers. That will also provide direct benefits to low and moderate income customers. We think it's really important that we don't leave the opportunities for low and moderate income customers to participate in these programs.

Laura Knoy:
Pembroke Penti. He is calling in. Hi, Penti. You're on the air. Welcome.

Caller:
Hi. Thank you. Sure. I'd like to put my orange for the issue of net metering. The essentially the only effect on our utility of full retail credit for ourselves is that it looks exactly like lost load, which happens if I turn the lights off when I leave the room or buy a more efficient refrigerator. It is an issue and we will have to deal with the lost revenue that goes with that. But net metering is not a subsidy. It's basically access to the local retail market.

Caller:
It is not necessarily access to the wholesale market. Okay.

Caller:
And that basically, if I turn the lights out, some generator out there somewhere drops off, transmission doesn't transmit the substations, don't do their stuff in the theater to my house, doesn't see a reduction in load utility, doesn't provide that service of that kilowatt hour and it doesn't get paid for it.

Laura Knoy:
Gotcha. Penti, thank you so much for calling. And go ahead, Annie. And then I could hear. But he wants to jump in on net metering. Then I do want to move on to a couple other topics because I'm curious what's going on with Hydro after Northern Pass? Also, I'd love to get an update on biomass and what other states are doing, but we do need to untangle this net metering thing. So go ahead Annie.

Annie Ropeik:
Yeah, I mean, I would say two things. I I just want to emphasize again that I do think no metering is a really interesting sort of an example or like a microcosm of those larger debates. So, I mean, I think we are focusing on it a lot, but I do think it's really relevant that, you know, it's an example of a way that that local users can get more control of their system, can can generate more of their own power and use it to lower their bills. And it does apply to biomass, to hydro, large and small scales. A lot of towns own dams, for example. Natural is one they would like to not meter more of a dam.

Laura Knoy:
So this overlays the whole alternative fishery. Yes.

Annie Ropeik:
Yeah. So that that's point one. And then I would also I wanted to ask Charlotte to Penti's point. I've been told that this can add costs for Eversource to get passed on to customers, but that it is not the biggest driver of rate hikes. Is that accurate?

Charlotte Ancel:
There are two ways that we look at that. It's important to think about net metering. So again, the whole goal here is to serve customers cost effectively and reliably. So net metering, to the extent that customers are selling back onto the grid, that's an a way of obtaining solar. So the question there from a policy perspective becomes, is that the most cost effective way to do it or is there other opportunities to obtain more solar power to serve customers through utility scale projects? There's also this issue that I appreciated, the way that he described it very well. Of course, there are less electric sales as a result of those customers who choose to net meter. Those costs, in turn get passed off to all other New Hampshire customers because the New Hampshire utilities have fewer kilowatt hours over which to to spread their fixed costs on fixed costs like lines, poles, transmission and so forth.

Laura Knoy:
Exactly. There's fewer people buying electricity from you. Your costs for those poles. Yeah. Or you're buying less. You cost for those poles. Don't go away. That's. You're correct. Yeah. So go ahead. Madeleine.

Madeleine Mineau:
This is Going to get really wonky, but utilities have to update their business model.

Madeleine Mineau:
Right now. They are they make their money by selling more electricity. The more they sell, the more they make money. Some of our utilities are starting to move towards revenue decoupling, which means that you tried to decouple that incentive, that the volume of electricity that you sell is equated to how much money you make so that you can start teasing that apart. I also wanted to penny mentioned full retail credit. And when we're talking about these larger net metering projects, Bob mentioned that there's different categories. The large net metered projects don't get full retail credit. They really just get the energy credit. So if you look at your bill, utilities now are in the business of transmission and distribution. They no longer own generation. So they're not selling you the energy really part of the bill. And that energy portion is really the only thing you're getting credit. So the net metered customers paying for the distribution transmission, all their fair share of the grid services and they're only getting credit for the energy at the same cost that the utility pays a supplier for the energy.

Laura Knoy:
I think I got you there. Okay. Everybody wants to jump in. Go ahead, Bob.

Bob Sanders:
Okay. So the PUC is trying to find out what the right rate of net metering is. This is what they say now is the correct rate. They don't say it's a subsidy. Everybody else is arguing about. So let's move off that and look at the real subsidies. There is a real subsidies to the biomass plant, no doubt about that. They will get extra money more than what they do. The benefits are not that it will help all the other customer avoid all these costs, but it will be because it will help the wood industry and it will help diversity and so forth. So there is also another subsidy, ironically, on the bill that that Sununu signed, which is about the the low income, large utility size solar projects. They they will get more than they. Those projects will get more money than they should in any kind of scheme. Not because they're you know, that's a fair rate, but because that benefits a policy of low income people. So there those are some real subsidies.

Bob Sanders:
The net metering is very iffy, whether it's a subsidy or not. And it's very technical. And the PUC is trying to figure it out.

Laura Knoy:
I appreciate the explanations. And I appreciate what you said, Annie, which is, you know, net metering seems very technical and so forth. But it is kind of overlaying a lot of this because it does seem to provide incentives for further development. Charlotte, go ahead.

Charlotte Ancel:
Yeah. Just to be clear, I think it's important that we work off of accurate information. And actually, I'm pleased to say that ever since we don't, we have already evolved our business models so that we don't make money off of electricity sold and we do have a pull out for distributed generation. So we're pleased to be part of that. We propose to continue that. I also want to point out that let's not lose track of other exciting things that are happening in energy development.

Charlotte Ancel:
For example, electric vehicles. We believe that electric vehicles are going to be explode in terms of mainstream adoption, mainstream adoption in the next five to 10 years.

Laura Knoy:
Really? That's a short timeline.

Charlotte Ancel:
That's right. Those will also be actually regrowing some of the electric sales. So we think that there's a lot of abundance of opportunity coming on that side.

Laura Knoy:
Let's take another call, if it could. Susan's calling in from Durham. Hi, Susan. You're on the air. Welcome.

Caller:
Yeah, thanks for your program. I would like to know, first of all, is there a an energy plan for New Hampshire renewable energy? And then what is the effect of current plans for fossil fuel infrastructure? I heard on the radio this morning that Keene is increasing its use of natural gas and the Granite State pipeline as those plans go forward. How does that affect our renewables?

Laura Knoy:
Well, Suzanne, this is a great question. And Annie real quick. It's it's a very important point as the state is looking more and more renewables. Bob's report on a lot of the projects, natural gas infrastructure is still also being built and expanded.

Annie Ropeik:
So it's a great question, Suzanne. So on the first point, the renewable plan, I mean, basically we have the state energy strategy right now, which is something that our Governor Sununu, his office put out, I believe, last year. And it's very broad. It's has this all of the above flavor to it. It really does emphasize energy efficiency. It says there's a role for things like net metering. And it also says there is a role for pipelines and large transmission lines. So that's what we've seen from the governor's office. The Democrats in the legislature have sort of a competing strategy that they've tried to sort of carry out through some of these bills with their success this year that really emphasizes us more aggressive renewable targets and emissions reduction targets. All that being said, we are still seeing fossil fuel development in the state, in particular on natural gas, really exclusively around natural gas, which includes the Granite Bridge pipeline that would run on Route 1 to 1. That's a Liberty Utilities project. It's been very controversial. Liberty says they needed or have to put a moratorium on new gas service primarily for heating. And they're also expanding just the ability of the utility to distribute gas to new customers. And so that's kind of going on in the backdrop of all this. And it's something that a lot of people would like to see stop altogether.

Laura Knoy:
Well, I'm glad you raised the point, Susan. Thank you very much. And coming up, I'm going to ask all of you who is really driving the renewable train here in New Hampshire. Is it cities and towns? Is it the state? Is it to private companies? Is it the actions of other New England states since we do operate on a regional grid? So we'll talk about that coming up. Stay with us. This is The Exchange on an NPR.

Laura Knoy:
This is The Exchange. I'm Laura Knoy. A reminder that you can come meet The Exchange team next Tuesday in Franklin. As part of our Coffee and Community series, we'll be at the Franklin Studio Coffee House. Back to our conversation now about the future of renewable energy in our state. We have four guests and we've been hearing from you. And I'd like to hear from everybody on this, but I think I'm going to start with you, Charlotte, again with Eversource. Who do you see driving this renewable train here in New Hampshire? We've talked about some of the differences that we see between our state and other states who's really moving this forward in our state.

Charlotte Ancel:
So we exist to to serve our customers and to carry out the policy set by the legislature and the governor. So we see those policymakers and also the Public Utility Commission and the Office of Strategic Initiatives as being the big drivers of policy, which we then exist to serve to to take and use to inform the way we serve our customers in a way that's more clean, more reliable and more cost effective.

Laura Knoy:
So you see state leadership at the PUC Public Utilities Commission, the governor, the state legislature, as kind of setting the stage for this. How robustly, if I could put it that way, do you think the state is promoting renewable energy, especially compared to some of our neighbors?

Charlotte Ancel:
we're going through a time of really dramatic disruption in terms of the energy model? So we're moving from a centralized grid that had a couple fossil fuel and nuclear power plants that moved power out to the edges of the grid where flipping that on its head.

Charlotte Ancel:
And now we're going to a system that has thousands of distributed generators and also increasingly more battery storage and dispatch able resources. That process is is a is is going to be an evolution, not a revolution, meaning that it's going to be iterative and happen in stages. I think the conversation we've been having here today is a good example of all of the different judgment calls that need to happen. So there is push and pull in the process. I think that that that that history shows that that usually gets you to a better place when you have a multitude of voices and robust debates on these topics.

Laura Knoy:
Well, and I'm glad you mentioned the grid, because I've been reading a lot about is our grid ready for all this sort of smaller sources of energy instead of that old model that you mention, Charlotte. So let's hear from you on that. Any idea who is driving the renewable energy train? And also, is the grid ready for all this renewable energy?

Annie Ropeik:
Yeah. I mean, in a word, I would say no. There is a ton of work that needs to be done on grid modernization and doesn't get the emphasis that it probably deserves. And this doesn't sound as sexy as winter. Exactly. I mean, it's solar panel. Hard to translate. And if I might translate a little bit, Charlotte, that I think, you know, the state has been cautious on renewable energy adoption. It's been very political here. We have not been as aggressive as sort of, you know, taking more of the revolutionary approaches in like Massachusetts have where they've said full steam ahead. We're going to demand thousands of megawatts of renewable power by set deadlines that, you know, we may not even be able to meet and that we are going to prioritize climate change in a way where they're you know, they're really up there with California, New York as leaders in the country on how aggressive they're being on this issue. And then out of all of New England, I would say New Hampshire has probably been the slowest to make that transition. There are plenty of residents out there that I talked to who would like to see us taking a more aggressive approach to cite climate change as a real and present threat, and that carbonizing as fast as possible is the only way to forestall more serious impacts from climate change.

Annie Ropeik:
I mean, there are figures you hear about that we have X years left before the you know, certain things are baked in like that's real. And so the question of how we get there is extremely complicated and can be extremely political and can come at a cost. And people don't want the lights to go out. And exactly. And we're talking about things that power our lives. And so this isn't going to happen overnight. But I think there's plenty of folks that argue that we should be trying to make it happen more overnight. You know, to like a greater extent. And so whether the grid is ready, though, is something that New Hampshire, the Public Utilities Commission talks a lot about it. And Eversource has a huge role to play there because you are basically the provider. And then we have liberty also working on battery projects and all of our other utilities as well, working on distributed generation. And so that's something that kind of needs to meet in the middle with these larger influxes of renewable energy to then be able to supply them to consumers in a reliable way.

Laura Knoy:
Who's making it happen? What do you think, Madeleine?

Madeleine Mineau:
We are certainly seeing wonderful Leadership at the municipal level. Our cities and towns in New Hampshire are really eager to accelerate. I think this transition to renewable energy. Several of them have set goals. You know, they've actually passed ordinances to become a 10 percent renewable power in either just the municipal facilities or community wide. We have a lot of very active and involved energy committees in our towns. We're aware of more than 70 municipal solar projects. And as I mentioned there, some of the biggest supporters to to expand net metering in the state. These towns are really seeing this as a way to save taxpayer money. If they can control their own energy generation, their own energy use, reduce their energy use, that saves them money, which means it saves their taxpayers money.

Laura Knoy:
So with a relative lack of action at the state level, you're seeing cities and towns kind of taking the lead on this.

Madeleine Mineau:
Yeah, definitely. We're seeing great leadership at the town level.

Laura Knoy:
And Bob, you've reported on a lot of private companies that are pretty active here in New Hampshire with proposals or actual projects being built.

Bob Sanders:
Yeah, there is. I mean, there is some big solar that these are companies that don't get any subsidies that are trying to get contracts with out-of-state companies because there's New Hampshire doesn't do this in terms of procurements for large scale projects. And there was a bill that would go up that would have allowed that and that would have started on that road. And and Sununu vetoed that, saying we don't want to go down that road.

Bob Sanders:
There is, you know, in terms of in terms of this is there's some of this is related to the state, because this this whole net metering thing makes it easier for towns to to do this.

Laura Knoy:
But it sounds like, Bob, even with relatively soft support from the state, as our guests have described, cities and towns are moving ahead and companies are moving ahead.

Bob Sanders:
Well, there is. The truth is that the price is coming down and it is becoming more competitive and it's just a way to make money. He's come to save money, as the company said, or the company that's doing that project in Fitzwilliam. Its nexterra. They own SEABROOKE, I mean. So any other company that's doing it is a big they they get their money from from companies that do oil and gas and a big energy companies there. They're investing in solar because they see that as a long term goal. And even short term, it's a way to make money, makes fiscal sense for them.

Laura Knoy:
Let's go back to our listeners and Patrick's joining us from Keene. Hi, Patrick. You're on the air. Thanks for calling in.

Caller:
Thank you. Thank you for taking my call. This is a fantastic topic. And I just wanted to make your audience aware that I'm calling from Keene. And in September on the 19th and 20th, we're holding a two day summit called Radically Rural. What about topics of the rural economy is about renewable energy. And I believe one of your guests, Charlotte, is going to be coming to present at that. And earlier, your question was, who is driving the change? Well, here in the Monadnock area, a lot of the changes being, I don't know for driving it, but we're certainly train. And one of the passenger parts looking forward to new ideas and insights into how we can have renewable energy. So I just wanted to put that out to your audience. It's called radically rural. And if anyone would like to find out more about it, it's radically rural. Dot org.

Laura Knoy:
Ok. Patrick, thank you for calling in. And it's yet another example of some of the energy, no pun intended, going on at the local level towards renewable energy. Let's talk to Bruce in Bristol. Hi, Bruce. You're on the air. Thanks for being with us.

Caller:
I Laura Knoy. I'm up in the Lakes region, and it appears to me that a lot of the opposition to wind turbines in the Lakes region at least is founded in the visual objections to the visuals on the landscape.

Caller:
And I have two questions. One, I've heard repeatedly that these wind turbines have a lifespan of maybe 20, 25 years and then they end up being rusting hulks on the landscape. I want to know if that's true. And the second thing is, instead of putting them on mountainsides that are right, you know, and in many quarters of populations, why can't they put these things out where nobody can see them? The real wild rural area.

Laura Knoy:
Well, you have to go where the wind is strong. I guess that's.

And where the ones here with the interconnections are.

Yeah, but he makes a two really good points. Thank you, Bruce, for calling. And I feel like we haven't quite talked enough about wind. So let's go there, first of all, to let you know, Bruce and everybody know we did a show on offshore wind and all the excitement around that a couple months ago. So you can go to our Web site and check out that show. Any nhpr.org slash exchange. But Madeleine, to you. What about his concern that after 20, 25 years, these giant pieces of infrastructure become, I think he called it rusting hulks on the landscape?

Madeleine Mineau:
Sure. That's a concern for a lot of the larger renewable energy projects that are being developed. And there's very simple solution to that. You just have to require deep what's called decommissioning. So we work with some towns, for example, on their local solar zoning ordinance. If you don't want to end up with, you know, non-operational asset in a field, you just put in a requirement that the developer has to decommission the project when it's viable, life is done. So we talk about with nuclear power plants. Exactly. So that means you take you know, you have to take the equipment off the landscape that can apply to a large power plant and it can apply to solar panels or wind turbines.

Annie Ropeik:
I would just note quickly that the site evaluation committee, so anything that it's permanent above 30 megawatts, is that right? So things like interim wind decommissioning is one of the actual like D disqualifying factors that the SEC has to consider. So if they don't think you have a robust plan to decommission the thing at the end of its lifespan, they will deny your project. And we have seen Antrim wind go up. I mean, there aren't that many onshore farms in New Hampshire of size, but that's growing quickly across the country, especially in the Midwest where I just was earlier this week. Onshore wind in fields and farm fields is huge. It's the fastest growing job in many states out there.

Laura Knoy:
It makes more sense because it's flat and the wind is sweeping across the plain and so forth. So New Hampshire is a little bit trickier, isn't it, only to find the right place?

Annie Ropeik:
Yeah, it is.

Annie Ropeik:
And I mean, the the visual impacts are more serious when you have to put things up on top of ridge lines. I mean, we don't have a lot of flat land in New Hampshire. And I think that's why companies like ever sort of seem to be focusing a lot more offshore in their wind prospects because the Gulf of Maine is thought to have a really world class untapped wind resource and it can be a little more economical. I mean, you have to sort of build bigger there, but the payoffs are a lot better.

Laura Knoy:
Yeah. And in fact, in our program on offshore wind, I think we had the head of Eversource on. So we've talked a lot about solar net metering, wind. I did want to ask you I'll start with you, Charlotte, but anybody jump in, please. Is anybody talking about small scale hydro now? Because as Bob said earlier, we still do get some energy from hydro around the state, just smaller projects.

Charlotte Ancel:
Yeah, absolutely. So we are viewing this as a portfolio approach, meaning to get to a zero carbon grid. We're going to need to look at all resources, certainly existing in state resources that are serving customers with clean power and are also providing jobs. Net and economic development are definitely a piece of the puzzle.

Laura Knoy:
So hydro is not going away. It just might be smaller in the future.

Charlotte Ancel:
That's right.

Laura Knoy:
Madeleine.

Madeleine Mineau:
We have about 65 operating small hydro generators. So that's what we call five megawatts.

Laura Knoy:
That's a lot. I had no idea.

Madeleine Mineau:
And we have a whole class in our renewable portfolio standard that aims to make sure that those projects are sustainable in the future. Unfortunately, there's not a lot of opportunity for additional development because the permitting requirement at the federal level is very onerous and difficult and expensive. So we are seeing some projects that were no longer operational re powering. So fixing up that old equipment and putting it back online. But that's about where we're at right now.

Laura Knoy:
What about biomass, Bob? Are there any projects actively looking to get up and running in the in the near future at this point?

Bob Sanders:
Biomass is struggling because of the competition from natural gas. And that's why the bill, the one of the bills that soon to veto that would have subsidize some of this six plants anyhow that had special contracts that are already getting subsidized, to be honest with with with Eversource that they're up there, they're idled now from what I understand. And maybe there's one or two running now ever so has had a big biomass plant for Schiller that is that is doing well from what I understand and producing. That's in Portsmouth. Yeah. Yeah. Okay. And then there's just the everybody's home stove and that's doing pretty well to palate. Yeah. But there was a program to to basically help with that from Reggie Funds and Dorset Renewable Energy Funds to help the regional greenhouse gas. Yeah. No. Though the wood the wood furnaces. The Homewood furnaces where you know you don't.

Laura Knoy:
So it's a whole nother show.

Bob Sanders:
But anyway, that's that's small distributed. But that's has to do with heating, not electricity, which is important.

Annie Ropeik:
I mean, that's a whole other branch of sort of the emissions puzzle that gets some heat, a little confused with electricity sometimes. I mean, we talk energy that can be heating, transportation, electricity for your lights. And all of those are places that emissions will need to come down and that new solutions will need to be introduced. And sometimes natural gas combined heat and power. But some things like a whip held. So it's just for heat and you have to address them separately.

Laura Knoy:
Sure. But if you have a wood pellet stove, then you're not using natural duress. Right. For heating.

Annie Ropeik:
Maybe your energy bill comes down.

Laura Knoy:
Sure. You jump in Charlotte.

Charlotte Ancel:
Yeah. Laura, we'd love to come back and talk again soon. You know? Greenhouse gas emissions. The single biggest driver of greenhouse gas emissions in New England right now is transportation. The second one is actually heating. And at this point, the third, the smallest one is power generation.

Charlotte Ancel:
So we'd lost also loved to come back and talk about the solutions for New Hampshire in terms of how do we he are called state and how do we travel through this beautiful and in sometimes rural state. There's a we got a ton more to talk about. Wow.

Laura Knoy:
Right. And I really appreciate you sort of framing where the emissions are coming from, because a lot of the debate does focus on electricity generation, and that's important.

Laura Knoy:
But transportation, there's a lack of public assets here in New Hampshire. Most people have to drive to get where they need to go and heating for sure. So maybe as the winter gets closer, we can look at that. Go ahead, Bob.

Bob Sanders:
Well, there is companies are trying to combine the two combined heat and power. Yeah. Basically have a co-generation home cogeneration thing which heat your home and generate electricity at the same time. And they've got a couple of grants career, which is a big company, and in around a document area, got a grant. And then there is this company called In My Backyard,.

Laura Knoy:
Which is a play on not in my backyard, got it. Narnia,

Bob Sanders:
Yeah. Which I is about.

Bob Sanders:
It's basically these little black boxes that that way you can you can both heat your home and generate and become basically a zero, you know, a net net zero. So your home and actually using any energy either from heat or from electricity.

Laura Knoy:
Wow, that's really interesting. All right. So you've all given me a ton to follow up on with you on future shows. For now, I want to thank everybody very much for being here. Charlotte, thank you for your time. I appreciate it. Charlotte Ansel, she's director of Clean Energy Strategy Policy Development for for Eversource. Madeleine Mineau, thank you very much for coming. Coming in today can get a lot more to talk about. Thank you. Thank you. Madeleine Mineau, executive editor of Clean Energy, Energy and H. Bob Sanders. Thanks for helping us out, as always. Great to here. Bob Sanders is a staff writer for NH Business Review and any real peek. Thanks a lot for shaders. So I'll see you next time. OK, that's Annie Ropeik report on energy, environment and the seacoast. For us here at NH PR, The Exchange is a production of New Hampshire Public Radio. The engineers, Dan COLGAN are senior producers Ellen GRIMM, the producers of Jessica Hunt and Christina Phillips. Our theme music was composed by Bob Lord. And I'm Mark.

The views expressed in this program are those of the individuals and not those of NH PR, its board of trustees or its underwriters. If you liked what you heard, spread the word. Give us a review on Apple podcasts to help other listeners find us. Thanks.