Gov. Maggie Hassan and her Republican challenger, Walt Havenstein, each painted a very different picture of New Hampshire’s energy future at a summit on the topic in Concord yesterday. Havenstein focused on the importance of rolling back government energy regulations. Hassan emphasized energy diversification and the state’s role in setting efficiency targets.
“Conservation and energy efficiency are the cleanest and cheapest fuel,” Hassan said at an annual New Hampshire Energy Summit, hosted by consulting firm The Dupont Group. “The cheapest unit of energy is one you don’t have to buy,” she said.
The first-term governor outlined a five-point plan that included increasing energy efficiency and the use of small-scale, clean power generation, diversifying the state’s energy sources, modernizing energy infrastructure and supporting new, innovative technology to tackle the state’s energy future.
Going forward, the state must establish specific energy efficiency targets and engage the private sector to help finance energy efficiency and clean energy projects, Hassan said.
Havenstein, who has emphasized the importance of job creation and growth during his campaign for governor, took a different approach.
“Energy is first and foremost an economic issue,” said Havenstein, a former chief executive officer of BAE Systems Inc., whose New Hampshire operation is a large electricity user in the state.
New Hampshire’s high electricity costs scare off business, Havenstein said, and state regulations are contributing to that price hike.
Havenstein doesn’t support New Hampshire’s participation in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a cap-and-trade program, or the state’s Renewable Portfolio Standards, which require electric utilities to buy a certain portion of their power from renewable sources. The programs deliver questionable environmental benefits, he said, and cost ratepayers millions of additional dollars.
“We can’t afford to continue picking winners and losers in the energy marketplace, forcing ever higher electric rates,” he said.
The energy summit yesterday, held at the Holiday Inn, drew more than 200 attendees who ranged from members of environmental groups and power providers to representatives of the state’s Public Utilities Commission. Apart from Hassan and Havenstein, both candidates for U.S. Senate – Democrat incumbent Jeanne Shaheen and Republican Scott Brown – outlined their own respective energy plans they hope to implement at the federal level if elected in November.
Industry panelists who spoke at the summit largely focused on the state’s rising electricity costs this winter and how to tackle the issue. Within the past few weeks, several utilities in New Hampshire announced that their customers can expect major price hikes in the coming months and said New England’s lack of natural gas pipeline infrastructure is largely to blame.
During his remarks, Havenstein stressed the state’s pressing need for access to that fuel. For her part, Hassan said natural gas can serve “as an important bridge fuel.”
Both said they are encouraged by recently announced private sector proposals to expand the region’s pipeline capacity and also emphasized the importance of working with residents to site any future pipeline projects.
On wind power, the two diverged. Havenstein said wind turbines are overly expensive, harmful to property values and not base load power. Hassan said it is critical that the state do more to implement clean energy technologies and to diversify energy sources.
One of the few areas where the candidates find common ground is their outlook on the Northern Pass project: neither supports the 187-mile transmission line as proposed – a largely overhead line spanning from Pittsburg to Deerfield that would send Canadian hydropower to New England.
“I cannot support the current proposal,” said Havenstein, who added that he hasn’t yet seen evidence to show that burial of the $1.4 billion project is not economically viable. Burial is an option to consider, he said. “While we need cheaper and cleaner base load power, the Northern Pass project does not provide that in a balanced way.”
Hassan never directly mentioned the Northern Pass project yesterday, but emphasized that the state will not compromise on siting energy projects (one of the Northern Pass opponents’ main arguments is that the transmission lines would mar the landscape). “Our state’s natural beauty and precious resources must be protected,” she said. “I believe that win-win solutions exist, but we must work together, and listen to the concerned of local communities to pursue them.”
Hassan’s spokesman William Hinkle said in an email after the summit that Hassan “remains opposed to the Northern Pass project as currently proposed and believes that the project must fully investigate burying more sections of the lines. She continues to encourage the company to reach out and listen to the concerns of Granite Staters, and if they are going to move forward, propose something that protects our scenic views and beautiful natural resources that are critical to our economy.”
Shaheen and Brown outlined energy strategies that both call for a diversity of power sources, but that take a different approach on fossil fuels.
“Energy costs are the challenge, they are affecting everybody,” Brown said. He proposes an “all of the above” approach that he said includes support for nuclear, wind, solar, biomass, and geothermal. He also proposed a plan to help lower the cost of natural gas in New Hampshire. “What I want to try to do is incentivize infrastructure such as natural gas storage facilities,” he said, “to encourage more supply.”
On a national level, Brown called for the immediate approval of the Keystone XL Pipeline, a proposed oil pipeline that would run between Canada and the U.S. “I believe that domestic energy production is the key to lowering energy costs and reducing our dependence on foreign oil,” he said.
Shaheen said she supports a “comprehensive energy policy” that supports alternative energies, like solar and biomass, and that moves away from policies that she said unfairly support fossil fuels. “I don’t think it’s in the interest of New Hampshire business or families to continue to subsidize the oil industry and I have voted against doing that,” she said.
The senator touted legislation – that she co-sponsored with Sen. Rob Portman, an Ohio Republican – which encourages the use of energy efficient technologies by businesses, individuals, and state and local governments. The legislation is pending in Congress, but Shaheen said she and Portman plan to bring it back after the election, a line that solicited a rare bout of applause from the audience. “We think we can get this done,” she said.