New Hampshire households are about to be hit hard, really hard, by rate hikes that will increase electric bills by more than $70 a month. These unprecedented rate increases reflect soaring natural gas prices and New Hampshire’s unfortunate decision to tie its electricity prices to volatile fossil fuels. While New Hampshire’s rate hikes are particularly dramatic, the state is far from alone – rates are up 8% nationally and 15% in Florida, Illinois and New York. Fortunately, Vermont’s forward-thinking energy policies—notably our decisions to stick with a regulated utility model and invest in renewable energy—protect Vermonters from similar rate hikes, at least in the short term.
As we plan for a future where more and more of our cars and home heaters are electrified, it’s worth considering why electricity bills are going haywire. New Hampshire’s rate increases reflect the price of natural gas, which powers more than half of the region’s electricity generation. While Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine is the current and most dramatic event to drive up natural gas prices, it is only the latest in a long line of geopolitical, meteorological and and economic factors that contribute to oil and gas price volatility. Although Vermont utilities also buy electricity from the New England grid, much of the state’s electricity comes from longer-term contracts with renewable and nuclear facilities that protect Vermont. sharp price spikes.
As climate change upends our weather patterns and international conflicts proliferate, relying on sustained low prices for fossil fuels is a sucker bet. From this vantage point, it’s easy to see what we need to do now to protect ourselves in the future. It’s time to double down on renewable energy, especially the renewable energy we generate right here in Vermont. Investing seriously in renewable energies, with their production costs close to zero, is the key to reducing our electricity bills in the future.
Once upon a time, renewables were primarily an ‘eat your veg’ solution to climate change – something we knew we had to do but wasn’t always exciting. Change can be difficult, wind turbines and solar panels were expensive, and utilities worried about how to manage the variable power output produced by wind and solar. But increasingly, renewables pay dividends not only in terms of climate protection – reason enough to eat our vegetables – but also in terms of price and reliability. On price alone, new wind and solar outperform coal and are competitive with natural gas. Next-generation panels and turbines are more efficient than ever at capturing energy from the wind and sun. Better weather forecasting, expanding energy storage, and innovative solutions to shift electricity demand to periods of excess generation are increasingly facilitating the integration of renewables into the grid. In Texas, hardly a state known for its climate-friendly outlook, renewables are credited with keeping the grid running while Texans ramp up air conditioning to cope with record early heat brought on by climate change. Recently, wind and solar have produced 40% of the electricity used by Texas during peak periods. (Oh, and those massive blackouts in Texas last winter that the fossil fuel industry and their allies were so eager to blame on wind power –
Turns out these were actually caused by freezing natural gas plants and pipelines!) Rather than just being the best option for tackling climate change, renewables are increasingly the best option, period – including keeping tariffs low and the network running.
To ensure that Vermonters continue to enjoy the benefits of renewable energy, we should update our energy laws to require utilities to purchase 100% renewable energy and at least double our production goals. renewable energy in the state, to 20% or more by 2030. More renewable energy in Vermont means more on-site solar installations – on rooftops, above parking lots or mounted in backyards. That means community solar panels so renters and low-income Vermonters can access renewable energy and invest in storage. This means returning to building responsibly located wind projects in Vermont. Building renewable facilities in Vermont means we can control the environmental impacts of the energy we use rather than asking others to bear those burdens for us. Looking back, it’s clear Vermont policymakers had the foresight to shield Vermonters from the rate turbulence rocking New Hampshire and much of the rest of the country. Let’s exercise that foresight again by taking action today to ensure that Vermont’s future is sustainable.
Jonathan Dowds can be reached at 802-229-0099.