Editorial: Hassan’s Pitch; N.H. Seeks Connecticut’s Help
Interesting letter that New Hampshire Gov. Maggie Hassan wrote to Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy, and not just because one state’s chief executive was weighing in on pending legislation in another state. The letter raised a number of challenging questions about energy strategy.
Connecticut legislators are struggling to tweak the state’s renewable-energy portfolio, determining not only how much of the state’s energy should come from renewable sources, but how quickly and which energy sources should qualify. Behind this effort, of course, is concern about climate change and the need to find alternatives to fossil-fuel-based energy. Legislation that would alter the requirements for how Connecticut can achieve its goal of supplying 20 percent of the state’s power with renewable energy by 2020 recently passed the state Senate and awaits action in the House.
The May 8 letter Hassan sent to Malloy flagged two issues of concern to New Hampshire: a provision in the bill that she believed would exclude from the portfolio power from small wood-fired plants in New Hampshire and another that would allow power produced by large hydropower sources to count for 5 percent of Connecticut’s renewable portfolio.
The second objection refers to the possibility that Connecticut might buy a sizable amount of power from Hydro-Quebec, which would create additional pressure to get approval for the Northern Pass project, the high-voltage transmission lines that would move 1,200 megawatts of electricity from massive dams in northern Quebec to New England. That prospect has many in New Hampshire upset because Northern Pass’ route is through this state and might blight mostly pristine country, including a section of the White Mountains. Developers of the project, fighting a pitched battle with those who are doing their utmost to block it, have still not announced a preferred route.
In her letter, Hassan argues that allowing large hydro to account for a portion of the renewable portfolio runs counter to regional policy, which is to encourage smaller power producers of the hydro, solar and wind variety and recognize that large hydro doesn’t need government help. Considering some of the impacts of large hydro development, including its effect on the mostly indigenous people who live on or near the areas put under water, small-scale would be our preference, too. But it’s not an obvious call. It’s not entirely clear, for example, how quickly numerous smaller generators can make a sizable contribution toward supplanting carbon-based fuels. And as has become all too clear in both New Hampshire and Vermont recently, not everyone is enamored of small-scale producers — wind in particular. Moreover, the whole point of developing a renewable energy portfolio is to wean the region as quickly as possible from carbon-based fuel. Considering the consequences of global warming, there’s an argument to be made for embracing whatever accomplishes that in the shortest time, even if that strategy produces its own undesirable effects. In that regard, tolerating the unsightliness of Northern Pass might be a sacrifice necessitated by the overwhelming need to replace carbon-based fuels (assuming large hydro would deliver that benefit, which is also a matter of some debate). None of those questions suggest easy answers.
Energy issues aside, Hassan made a pitch on behalf of New Hampshire: “As you know,” she wrote, “Northern Pass raises many questions for New Hampshire. That project could have an impact on some of our state’s most important natural resources, such as the White Mountain National Forest, which are critical to the success of our tourism industry. It is disappointing that Connecticut would make such a major change to its (portfolio) law without taking the very real concerns New Hampshire and other states have into consideration.”
Not surprisingly, perhaps, Hassan’s plea elicited little sympathy. Connecticut’s governor replied that large-scale hydro promised to supply renewable power at an affordable price — a “win-win” option for a state burdened with high energy prices.
Hassan’s case would be a tough sell under any circumstances, but it’s hard not to wonder if New Hampshire has handicapped itself by its relentless pursuit of self-interest or, more to the point, its indifference to the impact of the “New Hampshire Advantage” on its neighbors. For years, after all, the state has taken great pride in its ability to promote its own prosperity at others’ expense by pricing tobacco and liquor below what is sold in bordering states. And, of course, there’s the absence of a sales tax.
This all suits the state’s low-tax, small-government self-image, and seems to have worked well as a business model. But when it comes time to appeal to the high-mindedness of neighbors, a state that has rarely subordinated its own interests isn’t likely to persuade others to do so — even on so important and confounding an issue as energy.