Thursday, May 28, 2015

The Government Chooses the Electricity Supplier: Disturbing Trends in Vermont and New Hampshire

In Hanover New Hampshire

In New Hampshire, individuals and businesses can choose their electricity supplier, due to deregulation.  Some of the choices include:
Liberty Utilities
Eversource (formerly PSNH)
New Hampshire Electric Co-op

However, Hanover, New Hampshire, home of Dartmouth College, hopes to be a Green Power Community.  It intends to achieve this goal by encouraging people to buy Green Power instead of the "brown power" (their words) supplied by regular utilities.  Specifically, Hanover wants you to sign up for their chosen Green Power utility:ENH, the Hanover Green Power Challenge supplier. Hanover hopes that  residents will sign up this utility, right on the link on the Hanover Town website. On the website, under Green Power Challenge FAQs,  there are these words:

Beginning on Thursday, May 14th, to sign up for the Green Power Challenge, simply paste the following website address into your browser. ENH has designed a website specifically for the Hanover Challenge:  You will be able to fill out your customer registration via the website and ENH will take care of the rest.  The sign-up period closes on May 28th.

Most of the FAQ page on the town website is a carefully crafted sales pitch for signing up for ENH, including how easy it is to sign up, how your electricity won't be disconnected and reconnected, and the favorable rates you can get for twenty months.

From the ENH point of view, I am sure it is wonderful to see the Town be so pro-active for them.  ENH apparently cut a deal with the town to offer good rates, if the town would promote their product.

I wonder what Liberty Utilities thinks of all this?

In Vermont

As we saw during the lawsuits about Vermont Yankee, Vermont is a states-rights kind of state. (When the federal judges ruled for Entergy, several people in state government were quoted as saying it was a sad day for state's rights.) In Vermont, some towns want more say on energy siting  but the state Public Service Board process rolls right over them. In other words, we do things at the state level, here in Vermont.  We are choosing electricity vendors at the state level, too, though not as explicitly as having a link on the state website.

Instead, we just passed a law that pretty much forces our local utilities into the waiting arms of one vendor: Hydro-Quebec.  On May 25, John Herrick of Vermont Digger wrote a thorough article on an energy bill that was passed during the waning days of the legislative session: Legislative Wrap: State Passes Ambitious Renewable Energy Goal. Instead of reviewing the whole article (REC controversy and all), I just want to quote a few sentences: This bill requires that 55 percent of a utility’s electricity come from renewables, including large-scale hydro power, by 2017. The target increases the ratio to 75 percent by 2032.

Because of our excellent relationship with Hydro Quebec, Vermont passed a law saying that "big hydro" was counted as renewable energy.  I actually think big hydro should be counted as renewable energy, but counting it as renewable is somewhat unusual.

To evaluate the 55% renewable goal (in two years!) I tried to determine out how much renewable energy Vermont is using right now.  Alas, it is surprisingly hard to figure this out. The Governor's electricity page claims data from 2011.  It shows Vermont as having over 50% of its electricity from renewables: 37% from large hydro, 8% from small hydro, and the rest of the 50%  from wood, wind and "other."

Actually, I think that about 40% of Vermont's current electricity comes from hydro power: 10% in-state, and over 30% from Hydro Quebec. Green Mountain Power (GMP) seems to agree with me. On their Fuel Mix page for 2015, GMP shows 34% large hydro, 8% small hydro (adding up to 42%),  and they also show 44% "system power."  This chart is described as "after REC sales," so maybe they are not counting  the approximately 2% from wind?  I think that is what is happening.

A Green Mountain Power projection for the future (on page 4 of their ISO-NE presentation in March 2015) is another data point.  In describing this chart, GMP says that if they sell RECs from "premium renewables,"  the remaining power will be counted as system power. "Premium renewables" probably includes wind and in-state small hydro,

Okay.  It is pretty darn confusing, but it is clear that Vermont does not have 55% renewable energy now, and may have a hard time moving up to that mark by 2017.

Or maybe Vermont won't have a hard time.  Vermont's ace-in-the-hole is that we consider Big Hydro to be renewable, and other states don't.  So we can sell all our instate-renewable energy as RECs, and count their in-state production as  merely "system power." Under the new law, Vermont is required to have "55% renewables." However, it can meet this goal by buying more out-of-state Big Hydro.  Vermont would probably buy more from Hydro Quebec, the only game in town with lots of extra hydro power to sell.

In other words, in my opinion, Vermont's "ambitious renewable energy program" is almost a web-page link to Hydro Quebec.

Is this okay?

I grew up in Chicago, under "Richard J. Daley, Mayor." Frankly, it's a little late in life for me to act shocked about favorable treatment for favored vendors.

And yet, I think our local governments are breaking some new ground  in this regard. Town governments with links to one utility vendor and FAQs about how easy it will be to sign up with that vendor?  Passing a state law that pretty much requires purchases from an electricity vendor in a neighboring country?

I'm not shocked.  I admire the ingenuity.


John McClaughry said...

Very astute analysis. Meredith might have added that Vermont's Green Mountain Power is owned by GazMetro, which is controlled (ultimately) by the Quebec provincial government - and Hydro Quebec is wholly owned by that same government. So it's little wonder that GMP was a big partisan of Vermont RESET (Renewable portfolio standard)legislation that requires 55% of Vermont's electricity to originate with wind, solar, and biomass - and MAINLY Quebec hydro.

Will Fessenden said...

Hi Meredith-
My name is Will Fessenden, I work with Provider Power (, the parent company of ENH Power (we also operate at Electricity Maine and Provider Power Mass). Very much enjoy your blog and insight.

I thought I would chime in on a couple items.

Yes, New Hampshire is deregulated, business and residential customers can choose their supplier company (while keeping their utility). Perhaps inadvertently, in your post you listed the utilities in New Hampshire (not the supply companies). ENH Power is one of several options, but we are a proud New England owned company (based in Auburn, Maine).

We are very excited about the Green Power Challenge project with the City of Hanover N.H. The enrollment window for that program has closed, to date around 380 people have signed up.

I don't know what other supply companies Hanover may have spoken with, they reached out to us and we were able to provide a pricing structure that met their needs and felt would be of value to interested parties.

Should you or your readers be interested in any information or if there are questions...happy to answer them.