Editor’s Note: This story was first published on New Hampshire Bulletin.
The system responsible for delivering electricity to your doorstep is old — dating back about a century. The architects of that system weren’t thinking about rooftop solar, electric cars or the climate crisis, topics advocates today say the grid needs to address.
But New Hampshire’s seven-year foray into how best to update its system didn’t require significant change, frustrating some who worked on the plan. They say an update is urgently needed: to enable cleaner energy; make the network more flexible, reliable and participatory; and to make more information available about how we use energy.
The push for a modern grid is supported by a range of people and organizations in the state, from clean energy advocates, such as Clean Energy New Hampshire, to environmental groups, including the Conservation Law Foundation.
Consumer advocate Don Kreis has also been active on the issue, given the potential benefit to taxpayers of having more information and potentially more control over their energy use. Cities like Lebanon have also been involved in grid modernization, where energy expert Clif Below leads initiatives such as community power to enable more local control of electricity.
But some utilities are unwilling to change the way they do business — or allow outsiders to influence the power grid investments they should be making. So when the Public Utilities Commission created a stakeholder group that would do this in May 2020, Eversource pushed back and asked the commission to reconsider. Unitil has added its voice to this request.
“Eversource cried bloody murder and the PUC climbed under his desk,” Kreis said.
After suspending the order for nearly two years, the commission reversed its 2020 decision in an order issued earlier this month – reversing the plan to require stakeholder input and asking how the State will manage the modernization of the network in the future. Eversource says it is committed to modernizing its network to provide safe and reliable service to its customers.
Nearly seven years after the commission first addressed the issue, it was not the outcome some had hoped for. Kreis called it an “epic failure” and said it was a waste of time and money.
“I’m really frustrated because you know who ends up paying for all that wasted time and energy? Taxpayers. Even if it all falls through – no harm, no fault – someone wasted a lot of money,” he said.
And for many climate activists and scientists who hope electrification could reduce emissions, there’s no time to waste.
Currently, utilities are driving decisions about network investments — something the February decision leaves untouched. Instead, the order closes a case, indicating that another will be opened in the future to investigate the same issue.
Nick Krakoff, a lawyer at the Conservation Law Foundation, said it puts the process back to square one, but it’s unclear how restarting the process now will be different.
In contrast, the 2020 decision would have given other stakeholders a seat at the table, a change that Krakoff said would have been beneficial. He said utilities tend to want to expand distribution without worrying about upgrading for the future. In a written statement, an Eversource spokesperson said the company looks forward to the commission’s next steps in reviewing the network modernization and plans to get involved in the process.
“We work every day to ensure that the grid of the future can reliably meet the energy needs of our customers in a cost-effective way, and how we can best facilitate the interconnection of new distributed energy resources (such as solar on rooftops) through network upgrades,” Eversource spokesman William Hinkle said.
Krakoff and other advocates say grid modernization is a key part of increasing clean energy — moving away from fossil fuels that emit carbon into the atmosphere and drive climate change and toward sources energy that does not emit.
This transition raises many important questions, such as how clean energy resources such as solar and wind power are integrated and how to electrify areas traditionally powered by fossil fuels, without increasing the already high cost of electricity for taxpayers.
Chris Skoglund, Clean Energy New Hampshire’s new director of energy transition, said the decision was both a surprise and a disappointment.
Modernization is necessary, according to Skoglund, because the grid was designed when power plants were centralized – but that is changing, as individuals and businesses install solar panels or wind turbines or as cities generate their own hydroelectric power. Instead of a one-way street, power increasingly flows both ways. And as electric cars become more common, battery storage is also increasingly entering the equation. Skoglund and others say this can increase grid reliability, and it can also be exploited to reduce the cost of electricity, as a battery could reduce demand during a busy time of day – when everyone is home. work, for example.
“There are strong economic reasons to do this, and there are very strong environmental reasons (to modernize the network),” Skoglund said.
He is not talking about an insignificant change but about a fundamental overhaul of the distribution of energy. Skoglund is optimistic that there are small ways to answer this big question – like having cheaper rates to charge an electric vehicle when there is less electricity demand – at night, for example, when most people are sleeping.
“We have climate change and technological change happening hand-in-hand, so this century-old electricity distribution system needs to go through the changes that we need, essentially, at the end,” he said. he declared.