A transmission tower near Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Advocates say New Hampshire's reliance on natural gas puts cost pressure on the regional grid. Credit: PSNH via Creative Commons

New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu’s administration is taking aim at the five other New England states, blaming their investments in renewable energy for higher electricity costs regionwide. 

The New Hampshire Department of Energy’s new 10-year energy strategy, as in past years, prioritizes cost-effective energy above all else, and calls for free-market selection of energy resources, regardless of the fuel source. The latest version also repeatedly suggests that New Hampshire ratepayers will suffer as a result of other states’ aggressive procurements of offshore wind, solar and other sources of renewable power.

“Neighboring state renewable mandates create upward pressures on electricity prices from higher-cost renewables by increasing their share of the regional fuel mix,” the plan says. “As such, there is a significant risk that those increased costs will be passed to New Hampshire ratepayers even though New Hampshire policy is not driving those costs.”

Clean energy experts say that message is completely off base. Moreover, they say, it distracts from the primary reason for the state’s relatively high electric rates: overreliance on fossil fuels. 

“Procurement strategies and programs like renewable portfolio standards do prioritize zero carbon electricity resources, but they are paid for by the states that put them in place,” said Greg Ohadoma, a policy associate at the Northeast Clean Energy Council in Somerville, Massachusetts. “Ultimately, New Hampshire ratepayers will benefit from the economies of scale and the downward pressure on renewable energy pricing that its fellow states have spurred.” 

And the fact is, renewable energy costs — offshore wind in particular — “are coming in lower than ever before,” said John Carlson, manager of state policy at Ceres, a nonprofit sustainability advocacy organization based in Boston. “The recent high prices in New Hampshire are in fact being driven by natural gas prices, not by more stable renewable energy production and associated investments in neighboring states.” 

New Hampshire is part of the regional energy grid run by ISO-New England. Natural gas accounts for the grid’s largest share of electricity generation, at 53%. 

After deregulation, “alongside the fracking boom, we had a 15- to 20-year glut of gas-fired power plants,” said Sam Evans-Brown, executive director of Clean Energy NH. “Now we have a global energy shock and that decision is coming home to roost.”

Like the rest of New England, New Hampshire has some of the highest electricity rates in the country. The average resident spent $4,078 on energy in 2019, almost 10% higher than the national average, the report said. 

Rates are now doubling for many of the state’s consumers, with the utilities pointing to rising natural gas prices related to the war in Ukraine. 

In an effort to diversify the regional energy supply and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the other New England states have solicited more than 8,000 MW of power supply through large-scale clean energy procurements since 2015, according to ISO-New England. 

New Hampshire stands alone in the region as not having adopted a legal mandate to reduce carbon emissions. The rest of the states are legally committed to cutting emissions by 80 percent by 2050. And earlier this year, Rhode Island became the first state in the country to pass a law requiring the state’s electricity use to be wholly offset by renewables by 2033.

New Hampshire’s renewable portfolio standard, which requires electric suppliers to provide certain percentages of renewable energy, is anemic compared to the rest of the region. Its projected growth in solar adoption is the weakest in the region, according to ISO. And while more than two-fifths of New Hampshire households heat their homes with fuel oil, the state has “paid almost no attention to trying to transition to other fuel sources,” said Nick Krakoff, a staff attorney for the Conservation Law Foundation in New Hampshire.

The Sununu administration’s latest energy strategy, which is intended to guide state policymakers, does not propose a different path. Nor, Krakoff notes, does it express any sense of urgency around climate change. 

“There are a few references here and there, but there’s a real lack of concern,” he said. 

The plan’s recurring themes are opposition to any type of government incentives to “promote the so-called ‘clean energy transition,’” and support for policies that “prioritize the most cost-effective energy production and delivery.” 

“Some states may choose to accept significant above-market costs to achieve a particular resource mix,” the plan says. “With some of the highest energy costs in the nation, New Hampshire should be particularly sensitive to policy-imposed costs on ratepayers.”

Given that focus on paring costs, one might have expected the plan to place a much higher priority on energy efficiency measures as an inexpensive way of cutting consumer bills, Krakoff said. Rather, it simply acknowledges that a state program exists — if only barely. The legislature last year restored some funding for the program after the state Public Utilities Commission rejected a much more ambitious funding plan. 

“All the other states in New England have pretty robust energy efficiency programs,” Krakoff said. “That’s going to continue to reduce energy use in those states, and New Hampshire’s share of regional grid costs is going to rise.” 

At least 18 Granite State communities are aiming to cut energy costs on their own by pursuing power purchase agreements under the state’s community power law. The state Public Utilities Commission recently approved final rules for the program, which authorizes municipalities to procure power, using the collective buying power of all of their residents and businesses to secure competitive prices. 

The municipalities will be able to actively manage their power portfolios in order to meet their chosen goals, whether that be to lower costs, provide more renewable power, or both.

Lisa is a longtime journalist and native New Englander based in Connecticut. She writes regularly about housing, development and business for the New York Times. Her work has also appeared in the Boston Globe, CNBC.com, Next City and many other publications. She is the author of "Snob Zones: Fear, Prejudice and Real Estate." Lisa covers New England.