An upcoming legislative proposal to define New Hampshire’s Seabrook nuclear station as clean energy risks undermining solar and wind in a state that is already falling behind other jurisdictions in renewable energy development, local climate and energy advocates are warning.
The legislation under development by Rep. Michael Vose (R-Rockingham), chair of the state’s science, technology, and energy committee, would compensate Seabrook for supplying clean energy to the grid. Critics say the plan would “provide unnecessary subsidies to nuclear power while making it harder for solar projects to attract investors,” Energy News Network reports.
“It’s just another way to reduce support for solar,” said Meredith Hatfield, associate director for policy and government relations at the Nature Conservancy in New Hampshire.
“While we would welcome a robust conversation about how to design a clean energy standard, I fear that’s not what this bill is,” added Clean Energy New Hampshire Executive Director Sam Evans-Brown.
New Hampshire was the second-last New England state to introduce a mandatory renewable portfolio standard in 2008, and the rule only calls for renewables to supply 25.2% of the state’s electricity by 2025, compared to other states in the region that “look further into the future” with targets of 35 to 100%, Energy News Network says.
Now, “if a clean energy standard is structured so both nuclear and renewables qualify to meet the requirements, clean energy certificates from nuclear power generators would flood the market, causing the price to plummet,” the news story explains. “Revenue from renewable energy certificates is an important part of the financial model for many renewable energy projects, so falling prices would likely mean fewer solar developments could attract investors or turn a profit.”
Seabrook has a rated capacity above 1,250 megawatts, compared to four wind farms that produce just over 85 megawatts—the majority of that for export to Boston—and the state’s biggest solar development at 3.3 megawatts. But Vose casts even a modest renewable energy target as a reliability issue. “Until we can have affordable, scalable battery storage, the intermittency of renewables is going to guarantee that renewables are unreliable,” he said. “And if we add too many renewables to our grid, it makes the whole grid unreliable.”
That’s a line of argument that “has been widely debunked,” Energy News Network writes. “Grid experts say variable renewables may require different planning and system design but are not inherently less reliable than fossil fuel generation.”
But a combined clean energy standard would allow nuclear to drive renewables out of the market, contrary to the purpose of a portfolio standard meant to diversify the state’s electricity supply. The plan could also endanger utility payments that are the only funding source for New Hampshire’s Renewable Energy Fund, which offers grants for home solar and energy efficiency projects.
“It could potentially dry up the only real source we have in the state for clean energy rebates,” Hatfield warned.
On InDepthNH.org, the New Hampshire Center for Public Interest Journalism compares the state’s renewable energy targets with nearby jurisdictions. Rhode Island, Connecticut, and Maine are planning for 100% renewable electricity by 2033, 2040, and 2050, respectively, legislation in Massachusetts calls for zero carbon emissions by 2050, and Vermont will soon consider replacing its current goal of 75% renewables by 2032 with a 100% renewable grid by 2030. New Hampshire’s power supply, by contrast, is “heavily weighted” to natural gas, coal, and even oil-fired power plants, and “the state’s energy plan emphasizes low electric rates over expanding energy diversity.”
Energy News Network cites Vose saying he doesn’t necessarily expect his bill to pass during this legislative session. But InDepthNH.org says Republican House members may see a need for speed.
“While proposals like Vose’s usually take several sessions to come to fruition, those lawmakers not crazy about renewable energy subsidies may want to push this through as quickly as possible,” InDepthNH writes. “Gov. Chris Sununu (R) has never been a big advocate for renewable energy and his family has long been affiliated with the fossil fuel industry.” But Sununu is in his last term, and “a new governor, particularly a Democratic governor, may not be receptive to a proposal to protect Seabrook Station over renewable energy projects for the state’s future.”
Republicans currently hold a “razor thin majority” in the New Hampshire state House and a comfortable margin in the Senate, the news story states, but current political trends suggest Democrats may take over control of the House in 2025-26.
InDepthNH.org has a detailed review of New Hampshire’s currently power supply mix.