Energy siting rules must be fair, balanced, expeditious

Last modified: 11/16/2015 7:01:10 PM
The Business & Industry Association, New Hampshire’s statewide chamber of commerce, believes New Hampshire and New England are in an electrical energy crisis.

The latest data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration shows New England has the highest commercial, industrial and residential electricity prices in the contiguous U.S. New Hampshire prices are 55 percent higher than the national average.

The N.H. Public Utilities Commission itself recently reported that the region paid nearly $5 billion more for wholesale electrical energy during the winter of 2013-14, and $2 billion more last winter, than during the benchmark winter of 2011-12.

Even with news that this winter’s rate increases may not be as big as in recent years, prices are still very high by historical standards and in relation to the rest of the country. Our regional electric rate disparity remains a long-term, persistent challenge.

The root cause for high electricity costs is that the region lacks enough natural gas pipeline and electric transmission capacity to balance electricity demand with supply. This is compounded by retirement of non-gas-generating facilities, including the unexpected announcement of Pilgrim Nuclear Power’s retirement in 2019.

If electricity and natural gas infrastructure is not built soon, New Hampshire and New England will face significant, adverse economic consequences.

A recent analysis by La Capra Associates estimates that failure to expand the region’s energy infrastructure will lead to $5.4 billion in higher energy costs for households and businesses, a reduction in disposable income that could top $12 billion, and 167,600 jobs lost or not created.

The BIA does not support or oppose any specific development project. The BIA’s primary concern is the cost of electricity and New Hampshire’s economic future.

We are very concerned that new energy project siting rules presented on Oct. 15 to the Joint Legislative Committee on Administrative Rules by the state’s Site Evaluation Committee are overly burdensome, lengthen the process for filing, invite challenges and litigation, and may go beyond statutory authority.

This is incredibly disconcerting to businesses, New Hampshire’s job creators. Rules for siting energy infrastructure projects in New Hampshire must be fair, balanced, clear and expeditious, not the reverse. We are pleased the Joint Legislative Committee on Administrative Rules objected to the SEC’s energy project siting rules and is requiring the rules be revised to address concerns expressed by the BIA, the JLCAR and others.

Up to now, the BIA worried about slowing job growth and economic activity as employers, particularly advanced manufacturers — New Hampshire’s most important economic sector — expanded operations elsewhere.

If the energy project rules recently recommended by the SEC were approved by the JLCAR, New Hampshire would face a bleaker scenario: Employers moving existing jobs in New Hampshire and throughout New England to other locations around the country or world with lower-cost energy.

The long-term, adverse economic consequences of this would be felt for decades.

Jim Roche is president of the Business & Industry Association, which is headquartered in Concord.


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