This spring, business organizations from across New England made an unprecedented effort to urge policy makers to help solve the region’s energy crisis. The heads of the New Hampshire Business and Industry Association, the Maine Chamber of Commerce, the Associated Industries of Massachusetts, and the Connecticut Business and Industry Association, which represent some of the largest companies in New England, co-signed a letter to their respective governors. In it they asked the governors to work together and allow for timely development of energy projects.
“While all the groups below support energy efficiency and the development of renewable energy, the need for low-cost, reliable energy to replace retiring generation sources is undeniable,” they wrote. “Lack of urgent leadership by New England’s governors may well lead to higher unemployment and a lagging economy for years to come.”
The rising electricity rates of the past few years have impacted nearly everyone in New Hampshire, but few have been hit harder than the manufacturing industry.
According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, electricity rates for New Hampshire’s industrial sector were more than twice the national average this past winter and are 120 percent higher than rates in Texas, a state that has seen rapid growth since the recession.
For these large companies, even a small variation in electricity rates can cost thousands of dollars. Leaders of some of New Hampshire’s largest businesses have been sounding the alarm about this problem for more than a year. They argue that if electricity prices continue to rise, it will hurt their ability to operate in the state.
“Lack of urgent leadership by New England’s governors may well lead to higher unemployment and a lagging economy for years to come.”
Paul Markwardt, the head of the state’s largest manufacturer, BAE Systems, in Nashua, recently wrote that having some of the highest electricity costs in the country makes the cost of doing business in New Hampshire uncompetitive: “Policy leaders in New Hampshire and New England should take immediate steps to secure an increase in the region’s energy supply. Failure to do so will only deepen and extend our energy crisis, stifling economic growth.”
In an opinion article, John Olson, president of Whelen Engineering Company, in Charlestown, also warned of the damage that could be caused by ignoring this problem: “The shortage of energy, most importantly electricity, may well curtail any expansion of existing businesses with additional jobs, or actually shrink the businesses. If they are small and energy dependent, they may be forced to close or leave New Hampshire.”
The region’s independent grid operator, ISO New England, has voiced similar concerns for the past few years. It has taken the position that reducing electricity rates is dependent upon building additional energy infrastructure and adding more diverse sources of energy.
Energy experts largely agree that for New England to move away from high rates and market-influenced price spikes toward a more affordable, reliable system, the region must build additional energy infrastructure. There is no one project that will fix all of our problems. Transmission lines to clean energy sources like Canadian hydropower and wind, pipelines to low-cost natural gas, and other clean energy sources like solar, are all needed. Northern Pass, which will deliver clean, affordable hydropower, is one such solution.
Our elected leaders have acknowledged that infrastructure is vital to bringing down electricity prices and producing cleaner energy. The longer this problem goes unaddressed, the more acute it will become for manufacturers, small business owners, and residents alike. Business leaders have made it clear that something must be done soon. It is now up to New Hampshire and the rest of the region to take action.