As we have entered the serious annual heating season with the October record-breaking snow storm and dropping temperatures, a briefing Thursday on the New Hampshire Independent Study of Energy Policy Issues seemed very timely.
The study was mandated by the legislature and is informally known as the "SB 323 study." The Public Utilities Commission contracted with an independent group, Vermont Energy Investment Corporation, along with long-time New Hampshire planner and energy expert, Jeff Taylor, to do the study.
Their report, 300 pages in length, looks at the overall energy situation in New Hampshire and how our current policies are working. At the center are questions about the state’s role in energy efficiency and sustainable alternative energy sources.
A key finding for me was that in 2008 (last year figures are available) we spent $6 billion on fuel in our state. Unfortunately, 90 percent of our energy needs come from fuels, mostly petroleum based products, that are imported from other states and countries. That means when we purchase fuel, 68 percent of the cost leaves the state immediately. It is about seven percent of our overall state domestic product that flows out-of-state.
Energy security on a national level has implications no less than relative to wars and much of our foreign policy agenda. It is true also for countries like China and India and many smaller countries around the globe who must import fuels to produce energy.
After Maine, experts tell me that New Hampshire is the state most dependent upon oil to heat our buildings. That means that more than other states, Maine, New Hampshire and other northeastern states are vulnerable to the ups and downs of the national and international petroleum marketplaces. Not a good place to be.
There are alternatives in New Hampshire. One is to use more fuels produced here. That includes hydro power, biomass, solar and wind. Hydro has been established for decades but only produces about four percent of our energy needs.
Wind power with our own "first in New Hampshire commercial wind farm" in Lempster along with solar power will become more important in the future. And biomass with our abundance of wood products will soon grow as the new plant in Berlin comes on line. Biomass provides about five percent of our power through small wood burning plants around the state.
The second important step for the state is to become more energy efficient. The study estimates that there are four dollars of savings for every dollar invested in energy efficiency. Two examples on the commercial side were highlighted. Southeastern Container in Hudson, a manufacturer of bottles for Coca Cola, by using compressed air, new lighting, chilled water pumps and upgraded controls saved $1.4 million in energy expenses. "They now have the lowest dollar per liter cost of all 10 plants in the US," the study reported.
Loon Mountain in Lincoln invested in 595 low energy snow guns over the last two years and has reduced their snowmaking costs by 50 percent based on per acre foot costs. Businesses like Loon Mountain and Southeastern Container know energy conservation is a key to economic success.
Here in our area, Southwestern Community Services, the community action program for Sullivan and Cheshire Counties, has been the provider of energy efficiency and weatherization programs with funds provided by federal and state agencies. SCS has a team of trained auditors who look at the homes of people eligible for services based upon income to see what can be done to reduce energy costs. Once the options for weatherization or other energy efficiencies are identified, added insulation for example, contractors are hired to make the improvements.
SCS was providing this service before the stimulus funds from Washington became available. Over the period from April of 2009 through the end of September of this year, 579 households have had some energy saving improvements made to their properties. But of that number, 408 were paid for through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (stimulus money) and while that program continues through March of next year, that funding stream will likely disappear.
The "Independent Study" will be a reference point for future discussions and debate on state policies on energy efficiency and reduced reliance on out-of-state fuel sources. Current policies will be adjusted and new policies implemented recognizing that how we fuel our businesses and homes and public buildings has a major impact on New Hampshire’s economic future.
Still on the energy theme of this week, the federal government has provided annual appropriations for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP). Last year, the funding for New Hampshire was $32 million which provided assistance to 47,000 homes. Current approved funding from Washington is reduced this year lowering the amount of money coming to our state to $14.7 million.
Cheshire and Sullivan Counties last year, for example, received $3.5 million for LIHEAP. This year the funding is expected to be $1.6 million. Families are eligible for the benefit based upon income and 5,299 received some assistance last year ranging from around $150 to just over $1,000 in fuel over the winter.
Reducing the size and cost of government in Washington does have implications for those who depend upon subsidies and benefits because of their low incomes. Change is upon us in so many ways as government goes about changing the way it does its business.
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