Solar Hasn’t Won New Hampshire Over, But Efficiency Has

Great Bay Wildlife Refuge in New Hampshire

Although New Hampshire isn’t in the forefront of clean energy in New England, the solar power and energy efficiency industries are active there, according to Michael Behrmann, director of New Hampshire Clean Tech Council. In this interview, he said that some solar developers are working around bottlenecks at the state level by bypassing bureaucratic intervention. There is more state support for energy efficiency than for solar power.

CEFF: How would you describe the solar-energy market's current successes and challenges in New Hampshire

Behrmann: We’ve come some way over the past 7-10 years, especially over the past three to four years, with certain policies that other states in our region have been more in the forefront. New Hampshire’s seeing the successes of those programs and saying, “Well, we do have an opportunity here, so let’s try and push forward on expanding those policies within New Hampshire.”

The challenge, however, that New Hampshire always faces is instability that we see within our governmental agencies.

We have seen a lot of development on the residential and small-commercial scale. There have been programs created… to support different businesses interested in expanding solar through our public utilities commission as well as through a financing authority that we have within the states.

And so there has been success. It hasn’t been as rapid of a development as we have hoped, but we are moving forward.

The legislature in New Hampshire changes every two years, and so from a consistent long-term energy-planning strategy, we don’t have nearly as much success and longevity as we would hope.

That’s the nature of our government and our economy and the impact of that. And so that has been a hindrance for larger capital coming in and developing larger utility grid-scale systems.

So there’s been a sort of a risk evaluation that says we’re not stable enough. This has changed a bit as more development has occurred.

We’re really not as risky as you’d expect – just slower from a development standpoint than other areas in New England.

It’s important to note that compared to the rest of the country, we’re doing OK. We tend to be somewhere in the middle of the pack, but a little bit higher.

Compared to other New England states, we’re not as aggressive with providing incentives. There’s that challenge on the comparison side. But we have made pretty good strides over the past decade.

CEFF: What is your perspective on the energy efficiency market's successes and challenges at this time in New Hampshire? 

Behrmann: On the energy efficiency side, we’ve done, I think, an excellent job.

We are in a region of the country with high electric rates. But when it comes to actual costs, we are better than the national average. That’s something important to know.

We’re focused on energy efficiency compared to the rest of the country. We are finally at a point where we have an Energy Efficiency Resource Standard. We did adopt that a couple years ago and it has been implemented at this point.

We’ve done a lot better on that than we’ve done on development of renewables.

CEFF: What stakeholder decisions would catalyze forward movement in these two markets in New Hampshire? 

Behrmann: One of the challenges is that our governor is not overly supportive of renewables. He takes the idea of an all-of-the-above approach, but in reality only focuses on what existing utility structures are currently providing.

He has not been supportive to any degree of renewables expansion or looking at the Renewable Portfolio Standard to see what it’s currently providing.

To be frank, too, some gatekeepers in certain departments have been outwardly hostile to some degree to expanding any of that. [They are] actually trying to removing various structures we have in place rather than supporting them in moving forward.  It’s a bit of an opposite approach and goes against the 10 years I mentioned.

Some developers on the solar side are realizing that with the higher cost of energy in New England, if they can avoid state-level involvement and interaction, the costs will come down enough that New Hampshire is actually a good market.

And we are actually seeing sizable projects develop now within the state.

Developers are understanding that despite some of the state [issues], the area does provide opportunity to do larger-scale developments.

Right now, we’re seeing largely 20-MW systems.

New Hampshire has accessible land. It’s not as developed as Massachusetts. That is giving us some opportunities.

Note: Emma McDonald contributed research to this article.

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