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- Resolutions to Save Money and Make the World Safer
As we start the New Year, trying to put the Pandemic and its disruptions behind us, we’re faced with Putin’s war fueling inflation. The US and others are supplying Europe’s needs which raises prices, so don’t expect much relief from high heating & electricity costs anytime soon. As an energy efficiency and solar specialist, I see real opportunities to save money and increase our resilience in the face of energy inflation and insecurity. I’ve been harvesting solar energy for decades, the up-front investment is paid back in savings every month and just keeps on providing free, local energy for years. In the face of the mounting threats from a warming planet it is one of the valuable tools to reduce the pollution from burning fossil fuels. But first, anyone who buys energy should do an assessment of how much energy you are using in your buildings and vehicles. That’s where most of the costs are under our control. You can compare the numbers to comparable buildings (using Energy Star tools) and class of vehicle to prioritize improvements. Clean Energy NH offers a handy Energy Savings Toolkit to help renters, homeowners and business owners respond to high energy prices while ‘NHSaves’ provides incentives. Consider these savings opportunities: Get an energy assessment - To understand the energy use of your building, schedule at least a Level 1, walk-through energy audit to identify obvious opportunities. A more thorough, Level 2 audit will provide a detailed analysis and a plan. Save with no & low-cost energy options - Turn off lights, adjust thermostats (especially when no one’s awake and using the space), keep tires inflated and don’t idle unless it’s essential. Take advantage of low-cost, high return options - Lighting (switch to LEDs), caulk and weatherstrip gaps and leaks. Consider window insulating treatments - simple interior inserts up to tracked insulating shades. Insulation - Start with the attic, an investment that pays back very quickly, followed by the basement. Think ABC for insulating priorities - Attic, Basement, Center (walls). When you’re ready to replace an appliance insist on Energy Star and get off dirty fuels by going electric. Heat pump water heaters, heat pumps and induction stoves save money, are eligible for incentives, and reduce indoor air pollution. Electric vehicles cost much less to own and operate. As they become more available and affordable, this is better technology that’s three times more energy efficient. Transportation is our largest source of greenhouse gasses so this is a win - win. Solar electric (or PV) is also becoming more affordable and as community solar emerges, you can access clean PV power that’s not on your property. The Inflation Reduction Act helps with these investments and includes many made in America clauses. These are exciting and rewarding solutions that you can pursue. Meaningful individual actions are valuable but we need significant collective actions to drawdown carbon pollution because time is running out. The Pentagon calls climate change a threat multiplier that increases the risks to agriculture, energy, health, security, buildings, infrastructure and countless species. Volatile, fossil fuels make our planet warmer which is increasing sea levels, storms, droughts and migrations. We have a massive market failure; we’re dumping billions of tons of very dangerous greenhouse gasses into our atmosphere for free! Let’s start by taxing what we burn not what we earn and encourage American entrepreneurs to accelerate the shift to cleaner energy. The bipartisan Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act puts a price on carbon and gives the cash back to households as dividends. It puts the money collected into every household budget and significantly reduces greenhouse gas emissions. This bill is an effective, efficient, equitable and achievable major step. To support it locally, go to carboncashback.org for more information. Isn’t a safer and more secure world for our children and countless species worth making and keeping resolutions to draw down greenhouse gasses and save money? ABOUT THE AUTHOR: John Kondos has been harvesting solar energy for decades and for the last one has been working on solutions to the climate crisis with Clean Energy NH, the Monadnock Sustainability Hub, Home-Efficiency Resources and Monadnock Citizens Climate Lobby.
- Employee Q&A: Meet Anna Li
What interested you in working at Clean Energy NH? I was in a transitional period in my life and a former colleague of mine referred me to Clean Energy NH. Considering my interest in nature and our environment and love for health and wellness, I felt Clean Energy NH’s mission and drive aligned so well with my beliefs and passions. What were you up to prior to working at the organization? Prior to working at the organization, I worked at a local Co-Op in Burlington, Vermont as a Health and Wellness Associate. Prior to that, I worked at a local college as an Administrative Assistant for 4 years. Why did you decide to work in the clean energy industry? I’ve always loved learning about nature and our environment. Living in Vermont for the past seven months has truly inspired me to want to take action and do more for our planet and community. Learning about Clean Energy NH's commitment to the state and the planet really inspired me - it felt like it was the perfect fit for me. Describe your position in more detail. Who will you be working with and what will you be doing? In my role at Clean Energy NH, I will be assisting the team with day to day operations, provide support for events, marketing, and be the first point of contact for initial inquiries for Clean Energy NH. I will be working most closely with Beth San Soucie, Deputy Director, as well as supporting all team members on an as needed basis. What advice would you give to your younger self? I have so much advice I would tell my younger self. The most important thing would be, be present and live in the moment. Don’t worry about the past because you can’t change anything now and don’t worry about the future because what is meant to be, will be. What do you like to do when you aren’t working? Spend time with family and friends, cook and bake, and spend time outside exploring new places. A typical weekend for me is… Rest, rejuvenate, and relax. I also love to try new restaurants with friends and family. What’s on your bucket list? Travel to all 50 states in US and Europe and sky dive. If you could choose anyone to play you in a movie, who would it be? Nora Lum “Awkwafina” Tell us one thing most people don’t know about you. I’m ambidextrous with most things. Fun Facts: Coffee or Tea? And how do you take it? Coffee 100%! I love a hot latte with almond milk with caramel or a shot of maple syrup. Favorite NH Restaurant: Moritomo, El Rincon Zacatecano Taqueria, and Thai Food Connection Favorite Musician/Band/Music genre: I love all types of music but I’d say my top three favorites are, Folk/Indie, Country, and Pop/R&B. Favorite Recreational Activity: Taking walks outside and meditation. Favorite Holiday: Christmas.
- YPiE Spotlight: Laura Samoisette
Name: Laura Samoisette City/Town of Residence: Center Barnstead Employer: Resilient Buildings Group Title: High Performance Buildings Project Manager Why did you decide to work in the clean energy industry? It was actually by chance; I was mostly interested in design work coming out of school such as smart city planning or biophilic design. A family friend told me about my current employer, who was helping her company receive energy efficiency rebates, and she had a great experience with them. I didn't know of many sustainability focused companies at the time, so I explored their website and ended up relating to their mission and vision. What interested you in working at your current employer? On the Resilient Buildings Group (RBG) website there was a short section about the company's mission which included improving human-comfort in the built environment, reducing emissions and contributing to large-scale solutions for more sustainable world. Although their services didn't align perfectly with what I had envisioned myself doing in the future, their goals aligned with my passions. I'm really happy that I put aside what I thought I wanted, to give a different side of the sustainability industry a shot. Describe the work you do in more detail. I'm lucky to have a wide variety of work as part of my role as project manager of the High-Performance Division. On a normal day I'm reviewing architectural drawings for LEED or WELL compliance. Perhaps conducting an energy charrette with a project team whose goals are to reduce operational energy costs or offset energy consumption with a solar array. Along the way I'm always checking in on my colleague's project status, creating contracts, or even making marketing materials. A lot of my work relates to energy efficiency incentives or state funding in some way. The NHSaves program is a great motivator for clients to make energy efficiency a high priority in their building design and programming. It's always a treat when the owner or a consultant is excited about the program offerings, and we get to review in-depth the design scenario with the best energy savings! What aspect of your job excites you most? Why? Our new biophilic design service excited me most, partly because I am leading the service from the ground up and partly because it combines aesthetic design with environmental conservation. So often people get caught up in the look of a material and not the environmental benefit. Now I get to advocate for having both. Overall, I think it's the freedom I have in this position to make a difference in whatever way is going to be impactful. It all comes back to the RBG mission. What makes you hopeful about the clean energy transition in New Hampshire? I get to work with passionate people every day, which gives me hope that we can make big steps to speeding up the clean energy transition if we can increase the number of the passionate people. For those not in the industry, I could understand having a pessimistic outlook on our trajectory, because they don't get to hear from the amazing people making progress each day. I see our strength in outlook and attitude rather than state requirements - which are not moving us at the pace of other surrounding states. What do you believe is the most pressing challenge that lies ahead for the clean energy industry in the state? Similar to the climate change issue, which may be a debate more relatable and bigger picture to readers, I see the issue lying in convincing the non-believers. It's very difficult to get a climate change non-believer to hear you out, because they are already casting aside the science, the current events, and the necessary transition in the way we design and consume. The clean energy industry is being held back by those who are afraid of CHANGE. What interested you most about being part of YPiE? I was looking for a good networking opportunity outside of the annual Local Energy Solutions (LES) Conference or sustainability fairs. It helps that everyone is very relatable and supportive - the events we host are fulfilling! What advice would you give to someone that is new to the industry or fresh out of college? Use your resources here at YPiE to advance yourself. Chances are that someone within our group has experience with whatever you're interested in. Don't create more work for yourself - we are more than happy to help! In terms of landing a first job: A lasting impression is someone who asked questions and showed genuine interest, and is not just going through the motions to check a box. Even when it comes to landing an internship, don't be afraid to reach out to an employer that doesn't have an internship posted. Tell them about your passion to learn and provide your availability...you could be surprised at where you land. A typical weekend for me is… A trip to Boston/NY to see a music event, drawing, or some kind of craft (that I'll either sell or get too attached to), and a game of Settlers of Catan with friends. What’s on your bucket list? Definitely a trip to Japan, but also Italy, Iceland and Bali are up there. My other bucket list items are mostly related to buying a home on a big piece of land and designing an open-air studio and Japanese garden. Tell us one thing most people don’t know about you. I never know how to answer this. I guess that I'm really into finances and planning. Fun Facts: Coffee or Tea? And how do you take it? Tea - specifically matcha and even better if it's iced with boba. Favorite NH Restaurant Oak House in Newmarket. Favorite Musician/Band/Music Genre I would say Lane 8, but there are some very close seconds. Progressive House is my preferred genre. Fave Recreational Activity Depends completely on the mood. Sometimes it's playing board games, other times it's exploring a new place.
- Employee Q&A: Meet John
What interested you in working at Clean Energy NH? I've been working in and on clean energy for most of my life so seemed like a good addition to my resume. What were you up to prior to working at the organization? After a decade in retirement (working for free on greenhouse gas [GHG] reductions), I decided to return to working (to pay for my next electric vehicle [EV], heat pump, etc). I was about to restart my business when I decided this was a better option. Why did you decide to work in the clean energy industry? While in grad school in Arizona, I discovered sun harvesting (some worked, some not so much). What’s not to love about abundant, free fuel? I was hooked. Describe your position in more detail. Who will you be working with and what will you be doing? As an energy efficiency and solar specialist, I’ll be working with citizens and municipalities in the Monadnock Region to save them money and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. What aspect of your job excites you most? Why? Sharing the savings from energy efficiency (EE) & photovoltaic (PV) with my neighbors and getting them to embrace it with measurable results. What advice would you give to your younger self? Pay attention, be in the moment, carpe diem. What do you like to do when you aren’t working? Hiking, skiing, paddling, trail work, enjoying life on my ridgetop. A typical weekend for me is… Depends on the weather and the workload. What’s on your bucket list? Thankfully, not much. If you could choose anyone to play you in a movie, who would it be? Harrison Ford. Tell us one thing most people don’t know about you. I enjoy sunrise (+/-) yoga. Fun Facts: Coffee or Tea? And how do you take it? Coffee with a shot. Fave NH Restaurant: Depends - Elm City Restaurant and Brewery or Mi Jalisco. Fave Musician/Band/Music genre: Depends on the time of day and mood, but I couldn’t live without music. Fave Recreational activity: Skiing. Fave Holiday: Thanksgiving.
- YPiE Spotlight: Meet Ryan Polson
Name: Ryan Polson Title: Senior Energy Consultant Employer: Standard Power City/Town of Residence: Raymond Why did you decide to work in the clean energy industry? To be honest, I was in need of a job. I was a year out of college, still job searching and not having much luck. I knew my current boss outside of work for a long time and he invited me in to interview. Little did I know that going on eight years later, I'd still be working in the energy world and loving what I do. What interested you in working at your current employer? At the beginning, it was merely a job. As I became further involved in the energy world, I grew to love what we do at Standard Power, and that makes me happy. Describe the work you do in more detail. Standard Power at its core is a sales company with strong efforts to develop and see renewable energy grow and thrive. We're often a multi-hat company, which I think is more enjoyable than doing the same thing every day. I'll have days where I do sales work, days where I run our pricing channel, and days where I'm managing our extensive hydroelectric program. What aspect of your job excites you most? Why? My work within the hydro industry probably excites me the most. Seeing old, run-down facilities rebuilt and brought back to life is such a cool thing. What makes you hopeful about the clean energy transition in New Hampshire? This is probably the easy answer, but younger generations are becoming more engaged in what we do to the planet. There's more engagement and action which hopefully leads to a better, more sustainable future. What do you believe is the most pressing challenge that lies ahead for the clean energy industry in the state? Politics. It's difficult to get things passed when both sides disagree a lot of the time. We have had some energy victories recently, so there is some progress being made. What interested you most about being part of YPiE? Finding like-minded people who do similar things in this industry. What advice would you give to someone that is new to the industry or fresh out of college? If you're seriously interested in the energy world, inundate yourself with as much information as possible. Read articles, attend events, intern or job shadow somewhere. Truly find out what you're passionate about - which I know can be daunting as a recent high school or college grad. A typical weekend for me is… I'm usually exploring local breweries with my wife, riding my bike, or watching movies. What’s on your bucket list? Visit New Zealand. (Lord of the Rings fan, obviously) Tell us one thing most people don’t know about you. I know too much about the show Full House. Fun Facts: I'm a blonde hair, blue eyed, lefty in a family of brown/black hair, brown-eyed righties. Play guitar. Was Prince at my Junior Prom.
- Let's Talk Markets
Recently, the State of New Hampshire put out a long-awaited update to our ten-year energy strategy. This document is not binding in any way; no policies are set when it is released, and no policymakers are statutorily bound to following its dictums. But the document serves as a statement of where the Executive Branch would like to steer the state and can signal to regulators or legislators the types of policies the governor and his appointees would like to see. That document signaled over and over that it wanted such policies to be based on “markets” (a word which appears 188 times in the document) and to be “cost-effective” (64 appearances). However, it has been observed that the strategy didn’t specifically identify any policies that would meet this criteria. The issue is that the delivery of electricity is perhaps the single most highly regulated commodity in the US economy. Electricity saves lives. It provides the power for ventilators during respiratory pandemics, and air conditioners during heat waves. It is central to our economy, fueling manufacturers, tech start-ups and air compressors at construction sites. As such, around a hundred years ago we decided as a society that access to electricity should be as close to universal as possible, and not left to markets alone. This being said, the electric industry in most of New England deregulated in the late nineties, and while the infrastructure to deliver it continues to be a state-sanctioned monopoly, there is competition for the electrons sold over those poles and wires. And we at Clean Energy NH have long believed that rationalizing and modernizing these markets will drive deployment of clean energy technologies. As such, please allow me to volunteer a few ideas. Any state policymaker inclined to make energy cleaner and more affordable is free to pick these ideas up and run with them. TRANSACTIVE ENERGY RATES This idea has been kicking around for decades, having been developed and championed by the economists at MIT. When you get your electric bill, chances are, you’re charged a flat rate per kilowatt hour that you use. However, the price of energy fluctuates wildly throughout the day and the year, with the costliest hours coming during our summer peak. Because every piece of infrastructure on the grid needs to be designed to accommodate these peak needs, a rough shortcut is to understand that 10 percent of the hours of the year drive as much as 40 percent of the cost of our electricity. So, why not charge people more for the hours that cost us more, and drive conservation in those few, peak times? This is the core insight of real-time, or transactive energy rates. In fact, one such rate is already being piloted by the New Hampshire Electric Coop. For participants, every day at 4pm their devices receive a signal that contains the price of electricity during every hour of the day in the following day. This signal is encoded in an open-source format that any device can be configured to read. This would allow your hot-water heater, your thermostat, your electric car charger, or even your home battery to be configured to automatically respond to those price signals. Your water heater wouldn’t turn on if the price exceeded a certain amount. Your thermostat would automatically dial back the AC by a degree or two during the daily peak. Your backup battery or your two-way EV charger could even be configured to sell a few kilowatt hours back to the grid if the price is good enough. The NH Electric Coop is actively seeking out partners to take advantage of this new rate. One early adherent is Generac, who has made a huge bet in the home battery space, and will now sell batteries that will come configured out of the box to respond to the Coop’s transactive rate. Another is Nuvve, a national leader in “vehicle-to-grid” electric car charging. With these market-based rates, you could be paid for your backup battery or your electric vehicle. Every utility should offer them. METERED ENERGY EFFICIENCY I love energy efficiency: getting the same thing for less energy and money? What’s not to love? The problem, generally, is that we are not terribly rational when it comes to how we spend our money. We are primates that evolved based on a need for instant gratification, and investments that pay off over a 5- or 10-year period simply don’t jibe with our psychology. (Not to mention that the average American homeowner moves every 8 years and may not fully realize the payback for their improvements.) These are just some of the reasons why people invest much less in energy efficiency than is economically rational, and we should find ways to encourage it. However, our existing methods for handing out these subsidies are too burdensome. Contractors must follow formulaic methods that are prescribed by centrally administered utility programs. They run through check lists of what they must do to prove they complied with the program requirements, even if these steps are unnecessary or superfluous. Their methods are circumscribed by what the central planners think their methods should be. A better approach would be to pay for performance. The energy performance baseline of a building could be established in advance, based on meter readings and fuel delivery records. A contractor could arrive and install improvements in a property, following the latest science or advancements in building trade knowledge, and then be paid based on the measured savings that a customer accumulated after the fact. The administrative costs would fall, and we would incentivize contractors and homeowners to save as much as possible. CREATE LOCAL ENERGY MARKETS As mentioned above, over a hundred years ago we decided that provision of electricity was too important to be left to the markets. However, in the late 90s, we realized that while access to electricity should be universal, the energy sold over the poles and wires could be allowed to compete. Now we have thriving regional electricity markets that run an auction for who the lowest cost supplier of electricity will be every five minutes. There are also auctions run once a year for which power plants will be expected to be ready for peak demand days 3 years out, called capacity auctions. We have markets that determine who will provide voltage support and frequency regulation and spinning reserves. But when it comes how that electricity is distributed locally, the markets end. Our distribution utilities (think Eversource, Liberty, and Unitil) make all the decisions when it comes to how we will manage our peak demand on hot days. These decisions set our electric rates. This type of central planning does not need to be. We could work with our utilities to turn themselves into Distribution System Operators. In this model, we would have our own, local markets. These markets would reward any resource that could reduce the amount of energy we used during the peak moments of each month, and the peak moment of the year. Batteries installed in homes as backup to the grid can do this, by discharging when prices are high. Solar arrays can do this, particularly if they are installed to point west, so they are generating later in the day when demand is highest. Energy Efficiency can do this since it reduces demand all of the time. And lastly, any customer can do this, because if they know that prices are high at certain moments, they can simply not turn on power hungry appliances. THE LIMITING FACTOR The only thing standing in between us and all of these “market based” ideas is that the utilities are still operating in a 1950s model, frequently with 1950s technology. Until the utilities begin to invest in technology that allow us to send price signals to individual customers—such as smart meters, or other networked controls—we be physically incapable of implementing any of the ideas laid out above. This was a key limitation that was laid out in the “Grid Modernization” docket, which was opened at the Public Utilities Commission in 2015, investigated for seven years, and then closed this past spring with no substantive action. In other words, to date, we’ve had a lot of talk about wanting “markets” to solve the problems of what may be the most regulated sector of the New Hampshire economy, but no action. I personally hope this latest update to the 10-year energy strategy reverses that trend.
- The Era of Cheap American Gas is Over
In the past two weeks, New Hampshire residents learned that most of our electricity bills will skyrocket in August. For Eversource’s residential customers, the rate they pay kilowatt-hour will rise from 19 cents to more than 32 cents: 22 cents for the energy, and another 8 cents to deliver it. With this rate, New Hampshire customers will nearly have the highest electricity rates in the United States: higher than Alaska, where most customers pay about 22 cents, and lower only than Hawaii. Needless to say, if your state is paying nearly as much for energy than a string of isolated atolls thousands of miles from shore, something has to change. We are now reaping what we have sowed. Over the past 20 years, we have massively built out natural gas fired power plants in New England, from 15 percent of generation in 2000 to 53 percent in 2021. Natural gas prices set our electricity prices, and pipeline gas in New England is currently two to three times more expensive than the same time last year. This problem is not going away anytime soon. While it seems to us that prices have gone through the stratosphere, gas is currently fetching ten times more in Europe. American producers are responding to this powerful price signal to send their product overseas. And with the European Union’s newfound resolve to wean themselves off Russian gas, even more American gas will not be burned at home. If you’re hoping that American production will rise again, don’t be so sure. From 2010 to 2018, the low price of gas in the US meant that the American fracking industry lost a cumulative $181 billion dollars, which led the former CEO of the nation’s largest gas producer to call the shale revolution “an unmitigated disaster” for investors. According to a survey done by the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas, 60 percent of shale executives said they weren’t increasing drilling activity because they didn’t want the high prices to end. Finally, anyone suggesting that the solution to expensive natural gas is more pipelines to bring in more natural gas has a bridge to sell. Unlike the gas price spikes we experienced in the winters of 2012 through 2018, this latest increase is more about fuel prices and less about pipeline capacity. In part thanks to warm temperatures, on only a few days this winter did our pipelines approach capacity. Moreover, other states have implemented policies that seek to reduce gas demand and the few peak winter days where capacity is a problem, policies that save New Hampshire residents money. In other words, it’s not the infrastructure. The era of cheap American gas is simply over. There are solutions, but—like our two-decade gas-building binge—they will take time. As such, perhaps it's no surprise that politicians from both parties are looking for policy solutions that can be implemented before the next election, like gas-tax holidays or one-time electric bill credits. But the truth is, as Robert Frost wrote, I can see no way out but through. We need to build ourselves out of this crisis. We at Clean Energy New Hampshire have a whole package of technologies we believe will lower the amount of money consumers spend on energy every year: solar on every roof, insulation in every attic, a smart meter and smart appliances connected to the grid, heat pumps outside, and an electric car in every garage. This is the life our family is living, and I’m happy to show anyone who asks the spreadsheet of our energy costs. In this price environment these investments pay back even faster, which means this is where the markets will take us eventually. However, if we want to get there faster there is a suite of policies that help families choose each of these technologies, if we have the courage to adopt them. But since we’re laser focused energy rates right now, let’s talk about how to use clean energy to lower them. In Maine last year, following a competitive bidding process, utilities awarded long- term contracts to six large-scale renewable energy projects. Those projects will deliver energy to residents of the Pine Tree state for between 3 and 4 cents per kilowatt hour. Compare that to the 22 cents that Eversource and Liberty got when they went to the gas-dominated market in these past two weeks. New Hampshire lawmakers could authorize our utilities to issue a similar request for proposals in the next legislative session, or sooner if they have the courage. Procurement for long-term contracts with renewable energy providers is increasingly the norm. In Texas—in the wake of the blackouts caused by the freezing up of their natural gas system, and this year’s heat wave in which renewables staved off further outages—utilities have been issuing solicitations for hundreds of megawatts of renewable energy contracts. Competitive solicitations are not a subsidy, they are simply a different financing arrangement that recognizes that renewable energy projects have free fuel and high capital costs and require different market structures than fossil fueled power plants. The truth is that nearly no-one believes natural gas is our future. Governor Sununu acknowledged in his press conference on Wednesday, stating that we are in the midst of a transition to renewable energy. A glance at the queue of power generation projects proposed in New England tells the story. In 2017, 48 percent of the proposed capacity was gas, and in 2022 only 3 percent was. Meanwhile, wind, solar, and battery storage represent 95 percent of what’s proposed. The only question is whether the lower energy rates that result from those projects will flow to other New England states or if we’ll really do something to help New Hampshire ratepayers.
- Employee Q&A: Meet Gabe
What interested you in working at Clean Energy NH? When I first talked to Melissa Elander about the community energy coordinator position at CENH, she mentioned how often she worked with New Hampshire communities. I was drawn to the opportunity of working closely with the community members and business owners of New Hampshire because I believe personal and grassroots efforts are some of the best ways to enact the change you want to see. When I learned CENH was a nonprofit organization I got excited to work with a company that was more driven by the issues I was passionate about and less about turning a profit. What were you up to prior to working at the organization? Before starting at CENH I was completing my bachelor’s degree in Environmental Science and Policy at Plymouth State University. Why did you decide to work in the clean energy industry? I think I’ve been drawn to the clean energy industry since I was young, I remember building a small solar circuit with my grandfather so I could charge my Gameboy. Later in my life, I became more passionate about the environment than engineering and decided to pursue a career in it. I think I soon realized that the energy sector has such a massive influence on the environment and environmental policy that I felt like I could have the most impact by working to advance the renewable energy sector in any way I could. Describe your position in more detail. Who will you be working with and what will you be doing? As the community energy coordinator at CENH, I will spend most of my time working with businesses and homeowners in Coos county helping to implement energy efficiency measures and renewable energies in their homes and buildings. Most of my work is acting as a team member for these projects, someone who can dedicate more time to some of the more time-consuming tasks. For instance, I can assist in filling out grant applications and putting individuals in contact with contractors, energy auditors, and grant representatives while seeing each project through to the end. What aspect of your job excites you most? Why? I think the most exciting aspect of my job is the chance to interact with a wide variety of people. I love hearing about peoples lives, what drives them and what goals they have for themselves and their businesses. Helping people to become more energy efficient and economically independent while also working to tackle climate change is such a unique opportunity that I am so thankful for. What advice would you give to your younger self? Try every single kind of food someone offers you. What do you like to do when you aren’t working? When I’m not working I enjoy cooking, hiking, swimming, skate boarding and snowboarding, and spending time with my partner. A typical weekend for me is… Sleep in. Then finding a trail or swimming spot I haven’t been to yet and exploring there, in the evenings I like to experiment with new recipes and relax by watching a movie. What’s on your bucket list? Going on a food tour on every continent, also sky diving. If you could choose anyone to play you in a movie, who would it be? Tom Hardy Tell us one thing most people don’t know about you. I have been to 46 out of the 50 states. Fun Facts: Coffee or Tea? And how do you take it? Coffee just milk Favorite NH Restaurant Trailbreak Tap & Taco in West Lebanon Favorite Musician/Band/Music genre The Clash Favorite Recreational activity Snowboarding Favorite Holiday Thanksgiving
- In Celebration of Unitil's Pretty Darn Good Rate Case
Unfortunately, it hasn’t often been the case recently that I get to write about things that I’m excited about that are happening at the Public Utilities Commission (PUC). But when progress happens, it’s important to call it out. As such, the goal of this blog post is to call attention to a pending Settlement Agreement that has been proposed in Unitil’s rate case. A rate case is generally where an electric distribution utility officially asks the PUC for permission to increase how much it charges customers to pay for the lower voltage poles and wires that carry electricity from the transmission system to homes and businesses. These are important dockets where a lot of state energy policy is interpreted, though they often fly under the radar, since all of the arcana of PUC ratemaking can be difficult for the lay public to follow. But there’s no reason that these rate cases *need* to be confusing, and so let’s pull back the veil a bit, shall we? Most of the rate cases are focused on the utilities recovering costs for system upgrades and maintenance that they have incurred since the last case. But sometimes forward thinking changes are made as well. Here’s what’s in the rate case that we’re excited about. Revenue Decoupling You don’t have to hang out in Energy Policy Land very long to hear people complain about what many consider to be the central flaw in the electric utilities’ business model: “throughput incentive.” This is the idea that utilities only make more money when they sell more electricity, and so even though it might be in society’s best interest to use energy efficiently, utilities profit motive entices them ultimately to do whatever they can to sell more KWhs. However, it need not be so. Let me introduce you to a little idea called “Decoupling.” If you want to dive very, very deeply into this idea you can read all about the various methods in this exhaustive report by the Regulatory Assistance Project, but at its core the idea is fairly simple. Regulated utilities have something called a revenue requirement--the amount of money they need in order to provide their public good and a “reasonable return” for their shareholders. Regulators set that revenue requirement, but then in normal ratemaking, they divide the revenue requirement by the number of KWh a utility is expected to sell to set your electric rates. In revenue decoupling, the regulator simply says: “we set the revenue requirement…and then that’s what you get.” There’s a lot of ways to go about it, but all of them amount to “if you collect too much revenue you give some back, but if you collect too little we let you collect a little more later.” Under decoupling, utilities now no longer have an incentive to sell extra electricity just to earn a little extra profit. When combined with other policy tools like performance incentives for hitting energy efficiency goals, their business model becomes better aligned with what’s good for the economy, society, and environment. Liberty Utilities was the first to undergo decoupling in NH. If the settlement is accepted Unitil will decouple as well. That’s a good thing. All House TOU Rates Very little electricity is stored. The vast majority of electricity is generated and consumed simultaneously, and the grid must always be kept in balance. This enormous balancing act means that grid operators need to deploy a huge variety of resources with staggeringly different costs in order to match demand with supply. On one end of the spectrum wind, solar and hydropower have no fuel cost, and on the other end of the spectrum are power plants that burn ultra-refined jet fuel. The higher cost resources, which tend to be used only during the periods of high electrical demand, also tend to have much larger climate and environmental impacts. Reducing the high cost, highly polluting resources will have benefits across society. These high cost resources, when dispatched also tend to set the electric rates that we are charged. Despite the impact of these high cost resources, most NH ratepayers spend the exact same amount for every kilowatt-hour they purchase. This means that a million plus NH residents have absolutely no incentive to modify their behavior in very simple ways that have the potential to massively ease the stress on our electricity infrastructure. A very simple solution to this is to create an electric rate that provides households with a “price signal” that encourages them to shift their energy consumption to those times of day when electric prices are lowest. This can be done by charging people different amounts for electricity at different times of day. (Even more exciting is the idea of a “transactive energy rate” but we’ll leave that discussion for another blog post.) We have been debating the merits of these Time of Use (TOU) rates for decades now, but finally the utilities seem to be willing to give them a try and Unitil includes such an option in their rate case. The basic take-away from the earliest pilots of TOU rates is that the bigger the price difference between “on peak” and “off peak” hours, the more effective they are at driving consumer behavior. The biggest changes in behavior come when the cost of electricity during peak hours is at least five times more expensive than off peak hours. And sure enough, Unitil’s TOU rate is right on target. The “illustrative” rate example they included in their filings has a ratio of 5.22 : 1 between on and off peak. For homeowners that opt in to this rate (it’s not mandatory), this means that they will have an opportunity to use electricity during some periods of the day that are deeply discounted compared to current default electric rates. As more people adopt these rates and respond to price signals, less of the expensive dirty generation will be called into service, providing economic, public health, and environmental benefits. Let’s gooooooooo. Electric Vehicle “Make-Ready” Investments It is my belief—based on all of the available evidence—that eventually the electrification of our transportation sector is going to save society a metric boatload of money. However, you have to spend some money to make money, and at first we’re going to have to invest in the electric vehicle (EV) charging infrastructure needed to encourage the transition to electric vehicles. Without a robust public charging network, NH residents and visitors may be hesitant to purchase or drive their EVs as there will be limited opportunities to charge their vehicles away from home. While some of the funding will come from already established public sources, and some will come from private investors, additional investments from the NH electric utilities are needed at this stage. This is called “make-ready” investment, and includes the back-end work (poles, wires, transformers, etc) needed to upgrade the grid in places where charging is happening. The Unitil Settlement Agreement proposal for these investments is pretty darn good. It includes make-ready investments that enable: Four fast charging sites, each with plugs for six cars, owned by third party charging companies. Twenty Level 2 chargers, each with plugs for as many as ten cars, (that’s as many as 200 chargers!) also owned by third parties. Another twenty Level 2 plugs installed on light poles in local main streets. Funding for $600 rebates for 250 individuals to install smart “managed” chargers at their homes so that the company can gather data on how such chargers are used. If this investment seems small to you, remember that Unitil is the state’s smallest investor owned utility and doesn’t have a gigantic service territory. This much EV charging infrastructure within the Unitil territory could be a big deal and lead to other utilities seeing similar scale investments in their territories, leading to the development of that critical public charging network. In Sum While our proposal for our rate-case would be even more ambitious if Clean Energy NH ran the world, Unitil’s is pretty darn good. As such, we’re pleased to sign on to the proposed settlement. We encourage the PUC to approve it without delay.
- Chris Skoglund to Join CENH
After more than a decade leading climate mitigation efforts as a state employee, Chris Skoglund will join Clean Energy NH as the new Director of Energy Transition. "I could not be more excited to welcome Chris to the team," said Clean Energy NH Executive Director, Sam Evans-Brown. "There is so much work to be done to truly unlock the benefits of clean energy in New Hampshire, and Chris's history uniquely prepares him to hit the ground running in doing that work here with us." Skoglund most recently served as the Climate and Energy Program Manager at the NH Department of Environment Services (NHDES), the state’s environmental regulatory agency. For more than a decade, he has been a central part of strategic initiatives across topics as diverse as energy efficiency, distributed energy resources, transportation planning, and climate-change mitigation. This work has occurred at all scales, ranging from support for local energy committees, to coordinating the State’s government lead-by-example committee, to managing state climate and energy planning efforts, to leading climate-mitigation planning among the New England states and Eastern Canadian provinces. “I joined NHDES fifteen years ago, focusing broadly on addressing climate change. During my time working within the state and across the region, my focus narrowed to supporting the transition to clean energy technologies, recognizing that they were invaluable to the health of our economy, communities, and environment,” said Skoglund. “It’s been clear for years that Clean Energy NH is the state’s leading organization working in this space, and I am thrilled to join the very talented staff and Board of Directors to advance the clean energy transition in New Hampshire.” In the role as Director of Energy Transition, Skoglund will be responsible for engaging broadly within the various fora that energy policy is made. He will serve as the organization's expert in matters of policy and implementation of those policies, and will lead the organization’s intervention at the Public Utilities Commission, as well as lending his expertise to Clean Energy NH’s legislative efforts when the need arises. Clean Energy NH is the state’s leading clean energy advocate and educator, representing over 500 clean tech businesses, municipalities, and individuals. Clean Energy NH is a non-partisan, 501(c)(3) non-profit that provides services and resources to support the Granite State’s clean tech industries, policymakers, and communities.
- Energy Efficiency: "The Lunch You Get Paid to Eat"
As far as I can tell, the entirety of the pushback to the state’s energy efficiency plan that was recently rejected by the PUC stemmed from people and businesses who didn’t like the final price tag, and see that money as a “subsidy” for people who want to save on energy costs. Indeed, this framing is popular among journalists covering the story. But in this blog post, I’m going to explain what that framing misses. Here's a simple fact: when I make my home or business more efficient it saves me money. This is obvious and true. But now a more complicated fact: sometimes, when I make my home or business more efficient, it saves *you* money too. How? Follow me down the rabbit hole my friend. Electric Savings Lower Electricity Rates My in laws recently got their home tightened up through NH Saves. When they did so, they reduced their electric bill by getting some old incandescent bulbs swapped for LEDs. (One in particular was in a rarely opened coat closet, and for years everyone knew to double and triple check that the bulb was off when the door was closed because it was a genuine fire hazard.) When they did that, they participated on a micro-scale in lowering New England’s electricity demand. This saves everyone money because electricity is paid for through auctions run by a not-for-profit corporation called the Independent System Operator (ISO). In those auctions, the cheapest ways to generate electricity are selected to run first and the most expensive last and we all split the cost of whatever supplies our electrons. The price of every kilowatt hour sold at each moment is set by the most expensive power plant that is turned on at that moment. Here's how those auctions work. So my in-laws new LEDs save me money by ensuring that the power-plants run on jet fuel never (or rarely) turn on. What’s more, my in-laws getting free light bulbs helps make it so that the New England system as a whole is actually forecast to need less electricity in 2030 than it does today, and more than 4,000 MW less than if we weren’t investing so aggressively in efficiency measures. In a world in which we didn't pay my in-laws to swap out that old coat-closet fire hazard, we'd be paying for a lot of power lines, power plants, transformers and insulators through our electric bills. But wouldn't it be cheaper to just let my in-laws pay a higher electric bill? Well, in fact, when you compare the cost of buying my in-laws some LEDs, vs. the cost of all those power plants we didn’t have to buy, investing in efficiency starts to look like a pretty darn good choice. Here's the price breakdown of the various options, put together by the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy. Really, we face a choice: buy cheap energy efficiency now, or let demand grow out of control and buy expensive power plants later. Gas Savings Lower Electric Rates Recently, some friends of mine who heat with natural gas got their house insulated through NH Saves. Believe it or not that choice will *also* save you and me money on my electricity bill. What is this witchcraft, you ask? New England’s electricity generation is dominated by natural gas, which means the price of natural gas almost always sets the price of electricity. This effect is even more important in winter, since the cold weather pushes up gas demand and therefore prices. The coldest winter days, when New England’s pipelines are full to the max, can have astonishingly high electricity prices as a result. All of this means that when my friends insulated their gas-heated home, they freed up a little extra space in New England’s gas pipelines, which will make gas for our power plants a little cheaper, which will help keep my electric rates low as a result. Mind blown yet? It actually gets even more next level. The LEDs that my in-laws installed? Because our electricity prices are set by natural gas supply and demand, reducing electricity demand reduces electricity prices AND gas prices which then FURTHER reduces electricity prices. (Don’t believe me? Google “E-G-E Cross Dripe”. I promise its true!) So How Much Does Me Investing In Efficiency Save You? It all depends: some houses cost more to weatherize than others, some factories have more low-hanging efficiency fruit. But here are two graphs from deep in the appendices of the state’s three-year energy efficiency plan. They show the impacts of the efficiency programs on the electricity rates of people who take advantage of NH Saves, and people who don’t. The two graphs are for two different kinds of efficiency projects: residential and commercial or industrial. What these graphs say*, is that it’s true that if you don’t take advantage of NH Saves *at all* your electric bill will be *slightly* higher than it would have been otherwise. But not much higher: the approximately $5 a month that comes out of your bill to pay for NH Saves is *almost entirely compensated for* in lower electric bills overall: 0.6% higher. For an average residential rate-payer, that’s about 50 cents a month. And yes, your reading the Large C&I Graph correctly: non-participants should actually *save* money thanks to the subsidies they give their neighbors. Truly, in the words of Amory Lovins, that’s not a free lunch, that’s a lunch you get paid to eat. *A footnote here: to realize these savings, utilities need to submit a new rate case with a reduced “revenue requirement.” This should happen every couple of years, and regulators need to push utilities in those proceedings to pass efficiency savings along to customers. For all the much ballyhooed talk of the nearly $400 million price tag of the energy efficiency plan that the NH PUC just rejected, the utilities estimated that their revenue requirement would fall by nearly exactly that same amount thanks to that investment. Demanding we see those savings on our bills is why we have regulators and consumer advocates working for us.
- EV Charging Rates Are Coming in NH
As we speak, proceedings are underway that will determine whether you’d be able to fuel up an electric vehicle and how much it will cost in New Hampshire. Three dockets are open at the Public Utilities Commission that will determine how much the utilities spend to prepare the grid for public fast-charging, whether there will be a business case for fast-chargers, and what it will cost to charge at home. Here in this post, we’ll give you the basics of EV charging policy: why these dockets are necessary and what they’re trying to accomplish, and how EV charging can help the grid if we get these policies right. First, Why It Matters Why rob a bank? It’s where the money is. If reducing emissions is the goal, then transportation is where it’s at. As power sector emissions have fallen, those from transportation have remained flat. Want more reasons? How about the fact that Consumer Reports found that driving an EV saves you something like $7,000 over the life of the car because of cheaper fuel and less maintenance? How about the fact that switching to EVs will literally save lives? The future is cleaner, better, cheaper, but we'll need good EV charging policies to unlock all of this potential. Demand Charges and Fast Charging In the biz we call fast charging Direct Current Fast Charging, or DCFC. When folks who don’t own an EV think about reasons why they wouldn’t get one, the lack of fast charging infrastructure is high on their list. While it's pretty rare that you need the entire range of your EV's battery, fast charging is important for tourism, road trips, and for getting people comfortable with the idea of owning an EV, and so more DCFC is an important catalyst for EV adoption. That’s why the NH utilities’ proposals for DCFC electric rates are a real problem. The consultant that Clean Energy NH hired in partnership with the Conservation Law Foundation to review these proposals, recommended rejecting them. When I spoke with him in November Chris Villareal told me, “their heart is kind of in the right place, but what they’ve proposed is not going to work for the time frame of what we’re going to see for EV adoption rates.” For customers that use a lot of electricity, utilities have a special billing mechanism called a demand charge. Demand charges reflect the fact that pulling so much electricity off the grid requires expensive grid upgrades. But they also cripple the economics of DCFC stations. Clean Energy NH learned last year, for instance that some of the few fast charging stations we have in New Hampshire pay the equivalent of $3.08/kWh, which is something in the neighborhood of 15 to 18 times what you likely pay per kWh at home. The Rocky Mountain Institute has found that until there are enough EVs driving around that a car is plugged into a fast charger 30 percent of the time, demand charges will continue to be so expensive that they will make DCFC unprofitable. It's a chicken and egg problem: no fast charging makes it so people are afraid to get an EV, and no EVs make fast charging uneconomic. That’s why states around the country are proposing demand charge “holidays” until there are more EVs on the road. But "they did not propose that in New Hampshire," Villareal points out, “In New Hampshire they proposed a simple three year increase over time, regardless of how it’s used.” This is why we recommend the PUC reject the utilities proposals, and come back with something more grounded in the reality of the pace of EV adoption in NH. Time of Use Rates and Slow Charging First, some EV charging lingo. Level 1 charging is when you simply plug your car into a standard wall outlet. That provides up to 6 miles of range per hour of charging. Level 2 is more like a dryer outlet, which provides around 35 miles per hour of charging. Compare those to DCFC, which can add 150 miles or more in an hour. While fast charging occupies a lot of space in people’s thinking about owning an EV, slow charging will actually be the bread and butter. Currently, somewhere in the neighborhood of 80 percent of all charging happens at home, and the median range of an American EV is now over 250 miles. Think of it this way, how often would you need to stop at the gas station if you woke up every morning with a full tank? What’s more, slow charging can actually reduce electricity bills for non-EV drivers. By ensuring that slow charging is happening at times when our grid is under-utilized, like the overnight hours, we push more electrons through the same wires. And more efficient use of our electricity infrastructure means lower electricity rates overall. So when do we have spare capacity on our wires? Well, here are some examples of how New Englanders use electricity in the summer, winter and spring. Encouraging people to charge overnight will help make the energy transition more affordable for all of us. That’s why we at CENH likes Unitil’s proposal. Here’s what they laid out: Charging overnight, from 8PM to 6AM would be cheapest Charging during the day, from 6AM to 3PM would be in the middle Charging in the evening, from 3PM to 8PM, when the grid is most stressed, would be most expensive On average in Unitil’s proposal, there’s a 3:1 ratio between the most and least expensive times to charge your car. In other words, charging at 5PM would cost you three times more than charging at 10PM. We like this scenario, because it puts the power to decrease stress on the grid in the customer's hands. What’s more, if other companies want to come in and offer “smart” charging--say a charger that you can leave your car plugged into all day, but will only activate once you hit 8PM--it gives them a strong price signal to respond to. On the other hand, a proposal we didn’t like was Eversource’s proposal to do “managed charging.” Managed charging is when EV charging is turned off and on dynamically, from moment-to-moment, in response to the status of the grid. “Managed charging is not a bad thing,” says Villareal, “It’s just that there’s no reason it shouldn’t be a competitive product.” We like the idea of managed charging, we just think that Eversource should leave that type of service to the competitive marketplace. “Eversource is leveraging its utility role to expand their monopoly,” explains Villareal. Opening up innovative market structures to any company that wants to compete will help keep down the cost of equipment that enables good ideas like interruptible, managed EV charging. The energy transition must be affordable, and we need to push for good policies to ensure it will be.