Student Report: Empowering Energy Innovation in New Hampshire

On Tuesday April 30th, the Irving Institute hosted a panel on “Empowering Energy Innovation in New Hampshire: Moving from Theory to Reality” featuring local experts Tom Burack, April Salas, and Henry Herndon.

On Tuesday April 30th, the Irving Institute hosted a panel on “Empowering Energy Innovation in New Hampshire: Moving from Theory to Reality” featuring local experts Tom Burack, April Salas, and Henry Herndon. Attendees of the panel—which was co-hosted by the Rockefeller Center and the Dartmouth Energy Collaborative –learned about Hanover’s clean energy efforts and about the State of New Hampshire’s leadership role in the energy transition.

Each of these speakers brought extensive experience in the energy sector in and outside of New Hampshire, and also shared a commonality: they are each involved with the organization Clean Energy New Hampshire. This organization aims to promote clean energy and technologies through education and advocacy. April Salas and Tom Burack sit on the board of the organization while Henry Herndon is the non-profit’s Director of Local Energy Solutions.

The speakers opened the panel by observing that our society is currently at a unique time in the energy transition: we are shifting from a centralized energy system to a distributed energy system. A centralized energy system is typically defined by a sole generator and by one-way energy movement (from the generator to the customer). A distributed energy system is comprised of many small generators and differs from the centralized system because energy flows two ways: from the generator to a customer, but also from a customer to the grid.

The decentralization of energy has the potential to revolutionize how communities use and generate energy. Communities are now able to exercise more autonomy over their energy supply and consumers are able to generate energy, either for their own use or for resale into the grid. Towns like Hanover are reforming their relationships with energy as a result of this kind of change within the energy transition currently underway.

In 2017, Hanover, NH was the first in state –and the first in the country to do so by popular vote –to adopt the goal of 100% clean energy for electricity by 2030 and 100% clean energy for transportation by 2050. April Salas, who serves as Hanover’s Director of Sustainability in addition to her role as Executive Director of the Revers Center for Energy at Tuck Business School, emphasized how the community’s grass-roots organizations and interest in sustainability served as drivers in the town’s ambitious energy goals. The establishment of community task forces and the ability of residents of the town to self-organize were crucial in the process of setting these goals.  Hanover will achieve its targets by undertaking a portfolio of activities to include building local, on-site renewable facilities and improving citizens’ access to the renewable energy market.

The conversation also addressed the role of the state in energy innovation and transitions. Tom Burack, a practicing attorney, current Perkins Bass Distinguished Visitor at Dartmouth’s Rockefeller Center, and former commissioner of New Hampshire’s Department of Environmental Services, observed that the New Hampshire state government is the single largest energy consumer in the state, relying on energy for fuel for the state’s numerous vehicles, heating for over 500 buildings, and more. As a result, the state government can play a crucial role in reducing energy-related emissions. The government’s past energy reduction efforts helped the state reduce its overall energy intensity by 16% over the past four years. The state’s main barrier to improving building efficiency is the cost associated with retrofitting projects. The state recently spent $12.7 million retrofitting a few of its Division of Motor Vehicles (DMV) offices, a project which will save the state $950,000 annually. Burack emphasized that efforts to reduce energy usage on the state level send an important signal to municipal communities: despite high upfront costs, energy reduction is a priority!

Together, the speakers emphasized both the importance of the government of New Hampshire acting as a leader for municipalities across the region and the critical role of local leadership in shaping legislation at the state level. Herndon told the crowd: “I think what’s key is finding the avenues to take that local leadership and translate it to state level policy leadership.” The dualistic nature of this relationship means that small communities have the opportunity—and the challenge –to encourage their elected officials to make sustainable energy decisions. Salas encouraged all attendees—and especially students—at the panel to get involved in municipal leadership:  energy innovation in New Hampshire will stem from community action and state leadership.