Memo to Gov. Sununu: Time to declare New Hampshire open for solar business

A few weeks ago, I joined a packed house of Concord civic and business leaders for the official ribbon cutting of the Capitol Center’s new Bank of New Hampshire Stage in downtown Concord. As a thirty-something accustomed to heading south for great gigs in Boston, I was jazzed by what I saw and excited at the prospect of a similar Performing Arts Center coming to Nashua.

Judging by the early response from other millennials, I’m not alone. For one thing, the BNH Stage is a marvel of modern technology, with its wraparound lighting truss overhead, a stage-spanning high-definition display on the way, and retractable stadium seating at the press of a button. An impressive lineup of live performances and a trendy, retro feel are already attracting younger generations, whose tendency to leave New Hampshire has made us the second oldest state in the nation since 2016.

But there is another feature of the BNH Stage – less visible than the high-efficiency LEDs and and snazzy bar upstairs – that points indisputably to things to come and matters greatly to my generation: the theatre is powered by the sun.

After the ribbon cutting, I slipped out a side door and hopped a ladder to the roof, where a crew of young electricians and apprentices had recently finished laying the last of some 130 solar panels. The 43-kilowatt array, installed by ReVision Energy and financed by local impact investors who share my company’s commitment to solar for schools and nonprofits, will produce roughly 50,000 kilowatt-hours of electricity a year. That’s enough to power most, if not all, of the theatre’s anticipated load at a fraction the long-term cost of fossil fuels. The shiny black panels were neatly arrayed in rows running east to west and tilted 10-degrees to catch the summer sun. Four blocks north was the gleaming dome of the State Capitol.

The BNH Stage is not alone in its embrace of a more sustainable and less-expensive energy future. In the last twelve months alone, New Hampshire’s leading arts organizations from the Palace Theatre in Manchester to Tupelo Music Hall in Derry, from the MacDowell Colony in Peterborough to MoCo Arts in Keene have quietly been leading a clean energy revolution. They are joined by dozens of other nonprofits, businesses, and municipalities – not to mention some 6,000 private homes – that are cutting their energy costs and curbing climate damage through solar and energy efficiency. What’s more, they are helping retain New Hampshire’s young people, for whom climate is a top concern.

But while the clean energy transition is undeniably underway – hastened by a 70 percent drop in the price of solar technology since 2010 and similar gains in wind and battery storage – New Hampshire has failed to set meaningful solar goals and consequently lags far behind our neighboring states. According to the US Energy Information Agency, just 0.61 percent of our state’s electricity currently comes from the sun, putting us 38th out of all 50 states with 88.3 megawatts (MW) of total installed capacity.

Compare that to Massachusetts, which recently achieved 10 percent solar with 2,535 MW installed (8th in the nation), representing $6.5 billion on local energy investment and 10,210 direct solar industry jobs. Vermont is a similar story, with 11% solar penetration, and Maine is making bold moves to catch up. All three states are attracting a younger workforce to power their green economies as a result.

More important than inter-state competition, the rate of clean energy adoption in New Hampshire is simply insufficient to protect public health and the environment in the face of a rapidly warming climate. Research by the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services has found over 120 premature deaths per year from air pollution alone, which cost the public over $1 billion annually. Lyme disease, heat stress, allergies, asthma, and other chronic diseases are among the many documented human health impacts, not to mention losses in private property values and public infrastructure due to rising seas and extreme weather events linked to global warming.

Why does New Hampshire lag so far behind when homegrown renewable energy is now cheaper than fossil fuels and the cost of climate inaction is mounting every year? Why are we not taking advantage of proven policy levers, like the Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS), to accelerate the clean energy transition, grow our local economy, and keep more young people in state?

The answer lies four blocks north of those shiny solar panels on the BNH Stage roof.

For years, Gov. Chris Sununu has questioned or denied climate science while trumpeting false “facts” about the cost of clean energy and ignoring fossil fuel incentives altogether. As an Executive Councilor, Sununu voted to block every solar project he could, and as Governor he has vetoed nearly every bipartisan clean energy bill to reach his desk. He has also raised more campaign money from electric utilities than from any other source.

Now, Gov. Sununu has an opportunity to turn the page and declare New Hampshire open for solar business by letting SB 168 become law. The bill would raise the state’s Renewable Portfolio Standard from a measly 0.7% to 5.4% solar by 2025 – modest in comparison to neighboring states but vital to an industry that now employs nearly 1,000 Granite Staters and is itching to hire many more. It is arguably the biggest step New Hampshire can take this year to move forward on climate and clean energy.

The choice is simple: maintain the damaging status quo by sending billions of our hard-earned dollars out of state to import fossil fuels, or invest in a brighter future for our youth – one where thousands more theaters and schools, towns and businesses can lower their energy costs with solar. For the sake of our economy, our health, and our environment, I hope Gov. Sununu will choose the second path and let SB 168 become law.

Dan Weeks is a director at ReVision Energy, an employee-owned B Corporation with offices in Brentwood and Enfield. He lives in Nashua with his wife and kids.