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NH's Transmission Problem, and How to Solve it

Updated: Apr 13, 2020

Electric transmission infrastructure: you know, those large steel towers and cables you see crisscrossing I-93 on your way up to the mountains or down to Boston? Much like the smaller poles and wires distributing power to every home and business, these omnipresent scaffoldings tend to go unnoticed during our daily commutes. The average citizen gives scarcely a thought to transmission towers, neither recognizing them for the essential daily service they provide, nor thinking critically about the role they play in driving the cost of electricity for New Hampshire ratepayers.

But if New Hampshire doesn’t start thinking critically about transmission infrastructure, and the associated costs, it is going to be left holding a bag with a multi-million dollar price tag while looking around at its neighboring states and wishing it had seen the writing on the wall.

The Independent System Operator for New England’s electric grid, ISO New England, forecasts that each of the New England states, with the exception of New Hampshire, will experience declining annual peak load over the coming ten years. This is an important finding because our regional electric grid divvies up transmission costs among the six New England states based upon each state’s share of the total peak load. In other words, while Vermont, Maine, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Connecticut take steps to reduce their annual peak demand for energy, and thus reduce their share of the cost of the transmission system, transmission costs for New Hampshire are headed nowhere but up (see Figures 1 and 2).

That is, unless policy makers start implementing solutions. The good news is that solutions are becoming more readily available.

Figure 1 – NH is the only New England state forecasted to have peak load growth

Figure 2 – NH is forecast to continue to increase its share of peak & capacity costs

Energy efficiency and distributed energy resources including solar and energy storage lessen the need for energy coming across the transmission lines from centralized power plants. This is especially the case on days when the demand for energy is at its highest. Peak energy events in New England tend to occur in the mid- to late-afternoon during summer heat waves when air conditioners across the region are cranking away at full blast. Fortunately, these hot summer days also happen to be when distributed solar is generating the most, oftentimes right at the site where the energy is needed. Distributed solar can be a valuable tool to help reduce New Hampshire’s peak demand and lower the high cost of transmission infrastructure.

When it comes to mitigating rising transmission costs, more distributed generation is a good start. But policymakers can do more to better guide the deployment of solar and other more versatile technologies like energy storage.

The Liberty Utilities Residential Time-of-Use Energy Storage Pilot program, which was approved by the Public Utilities Commission on January 17, 2019, is one example of the policy and regulatory innovations that can be used to solve New Hampshire’s transmission problem.

In short, the pilot will deploy up to 500 batteries in residential homes. Each recipient will enroll in a Time-of-Use rate under which they will charge their battery at approximately $0.07 per kilowatt-hour at times of low demand, which is less than half the typical price. The battery then supplies the energy needs of the customer at times of high demand, allowing the customer to avoid drawing power from the grid when the Time-of-Use rate is closer to $0.36 per kilowatt-hour. The customers save money on their electric bill, and all Liberty customers save money on transmission.

Net metering, distributed generation, Time-of-Use rates, and energy storage – these policies and technologies present readily available solutions to the problem of growing transmission costs in New Hampshire. It’s time for New Hampshire to start thinking critically about how best to harness them.

*Charts courtesy of Clifton Below*

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