Energy and environment; birds of a feather.

At the start of September the New Hampshire Office of Energy and Planning (NH OEP) released the State’s 10 year Energy Strategy. Mandated by the State legislature in 2013, the Strategy examines New Hampshire’s past and current trends in energy resources, demand, and generation to establish a forecast for what the state’s energy needs will be in 2025. That forecast was then compared with the ideal future energy landscape for New Hampshire, built from projected trends in international politics, economics, and environmental conditions. The Energy Strategy presents recommendations as to what needs to be done to steer New Hampshire towards its ideal future energy scenario in the coming decade.

As an intern working with the Energy Strategy team at OEP this past summer, I had the opportunity to contribute to the research, writing, and public input process that went into producing the Strategy. Issues of energy are closely tied to issues of environment, especially in a setting such as New Hampshire where forests, streams, lakes and mountains are central to communities’ cultural identity. Those natural resources are often implicated with the many facets of energy, and require careful consideration throughout the policy process. While issues of energy are not specifically within my research focus, they’re certainly within the same scope of climate adaptation and forward-looking policy that inform my work. This is especially evident in the Renewable Energy and Fuel Diversity chapter of the Strategy, where issues of emissions, nonrenewable resources, and need for resiliency to fluctuating global conditions drive the recommended policy actions. Graduate coursework I have under my belt, such as Environmental Law and Policy, are directly relevant to the work I was handed at OEP. I was able to synthesize discussion on New Hampshire’s renewable portfolio standard and energy facility siting laws, and in turn make contributions to the policy recommendations being made in the Strategy.  It was fulfilling to experience these concepts taking place outside the pages of a textbook, and to connect the dots from classroom to on-the-ground needs. It was also refreshing to spend time in the ‘big city’ of Concord this summer, while still returning to my little mountain town of Plymouth each day.

Energy needs in New Hampshire are clearly unique, even among New England states. The Strategy often refers to the State as being “at the end of an energy pipeline”, characterizing the fact that New Hampshire currently depends almost completely on resources outside its borders to heat, propel, and light our communities. At the end of such a “pipeline”, we are prone to price and availability fluctuations that are often caused by economic and politic conditions elsewhere in the nation and globe. Those fluctuations where painfully clear this past winter, when natural gas and heating oil prices rose dramatically. One option for avoiding such conditions in the future is to reduce the State’s dependence on outside energy sources by expanding utilization of those available here. This could include solar, wind, biomass (timber), hydroelectric, and geothermal resources. Where New Hampshire sets itself apart in the region, is in navigating the energy facility siting processes. Community concerns over viewsheds, environmental impacts, and private property are deeply held and demand careful consideration. Thus far those concerns have slowed development of in-state energy production more so than other New England states. The Strategy acknowledges the need for effective community support, and makes recommendations such as community-owned energy projects and use of reclaimed ‘brownfields’ in energy facility siting.

In addition to work on the Strategy, I had the opportunity to attend a range of interagency committee meetings, hearings, and state government events while at OEP. Particularly memorable of these was the New England Governor’s and Eastern Canadian Province Premier Summit Conference. The event is held annually around New England and Eastern Canada, and was hosted in New Hampshire at the Mount Washington Hotel for the summer of 2014. Being an appointee of the Governor’s office, the OEP director Meredith Hatfield works closely with Gov. Maggie Hassan’s office. As the OEP intern, I was put to work with the governor’s staff for the three-day weekend event in the North Country. I fulfilled various informational tasks throughout the conference, all amid squads of bodyguards, media teams, fine cheeses, and other items that accompany events for key political figures. The Summit concluded with a the passing of six resolutions on shared issues of clean energy, transportation, climate change, and security among the six New England states and the five Eastern Canadian provinces.

Returning to my coursework and research at PSU this fall I bring with me valuable newly acquired experiences. Key among those was simply observing the state’s interlocking parts move in addressing emerging needs in energy.  Research at PSU’s Center for the Environment is often centered on the concept of interconnection among environment, economy, and community. This same interconnection was echoed in working on New Hampshire’s Energy Strategy, and has reaffirmed my excitement to pursue such work now at the CFE and in post-graduate paths.

Author: Jonathon Loos

Es&P M.S. candidate 2015