National energy bill could mean North Country jobs
April 14, 2010
WHITEFIELD — Heralded as a jobs bill that could help bring employment rates back up through the creation of jobs in the alternative energy markets, the national climate and energy bill set to be introduced to the U.S. Senate in the next couple of weeks could have positive effects on the North Country economy. The exact details of legislation are still being hammered out by tri-partisan drafters of the bill — Senators John Kerry of Massachusetts (Democrat), Lindsey Graham of South Carolina (Republican), and Joe Lieberman of Connecticut (Independent) — as they try to garner as much support from senators as possible. It is in these details that the economic fate of the North Country could lie.
Jim Rubens, former NH State Senator and current member of the Union of Concerned Scientists, believes that if structured properly the bill could bring jobs back to the North Country.
"This bill could have a highly favorable impact on the North Country economy…if it is structured to boost development of the big three North Country energy resources: wind, wood, and efficiency," said Mr. Rubens via email.
According to the North Country Transmission Commission, the proposed 400MW upgrade to the Coös Loop, the electric transmission system in Coös County that is almost at capacity, would grant a number of both wind and biomass projects already being developed transmission to market their energy. These projects include the Granite Reliable Power wind project (99MW), Clean Power Development biomass plant (29MW), Laidlaw biomass plant (70MW), the Balsams wind project (25MW), and the Wagner Forest wind project (180MW). The proposed upgrade would cost $150 million, a cost Mr. Rubens believes the climate and energy legislation has the potential of funding if properly structured.
However, there are local concerns about how development in the wind energy market could negatively affect the economy by taking business away from the already diminished wood-burning power plants. A 2009 University of New Hampshire study titled "The Economic Impact of Granite Reliable Power Wind Power Project in Coös County" addressed these concerns.
"The wind power project represents a potential economic bright spot in an area of New Hampshire — Coös County — that has been struggling," the study concludes, stating that the 99-megawatt project that has the potential to generate enough power to serve roughly 40,000 homes could also create jobs and revenue.
"During the construction phase, the GRP wind power project is expected to create a total of 550
jobs," states the study, though only 30 of those jobs would be filled by Coös County residents.
The study also states that the project would generate $20.3 million for the local economy in the first two years of construction, and $4.3 million per year after that.
As for concerns about negative effects on the traditionally wood-based economy of the North Country, Mr. Rubens believes that investment in combined heat and power projects (CHP), an option being considered for the bill, could "maximize use of the North Country biomass resource by using it to both generate electricity for sale and to use waste heat to provide district heating."
Wood biomass plants, such as the ones being proposed by Clean Power Development and Laidlaw in Berlin, represent an energy source derived something other than fossil fuels as well as a way to revitalize the North Country's struggling economy, says North Country RC&D Coordinator for Natural Resources Conservation Service Rick Demark.
"The diminishment of the paper mills has created a void in the low-grade wood market," said Mr. Demark via phone interview. "Actively pursuing wood biomass energy is a way to rebuild that wood-based economy."
The legislation focuses on climate, as well as energy, an issue perhaps equally vital to the North Country's economy.
A 2006 University of New Hampshire and Salem State College study titled "New Hampshire Winter Tourism and Climate Variability" found a link between the progressively warmer winters created by climate change and a decline in North Country economy.
The study found that New England winters have risen 4.4 degrees over the past thirty years, a seemingly insignificant numbers, but one the study links to "fewer days with snow on the ground, a decrease in the snow-to-rain, ratio in winter precipitation, earlier lake ice-out dates, and earlier center-of-volume flows on the regions unregulated rivers."
"Winters that are cold and snowy show an increase in the number of people participating in winter outdoor recreation," states the study. "This includes 14 percent more alpine skiers (309,000 more skier days), 30 percent more Nordic skiers (43,000 more skier days), and 26 percent more snowmobile licenses purchased by NH residents (almost 11,000 more licenses)."
This link between climate change and winter tourism becomes more important as the Senators Kerry, Graham, and Lieberman continue to make concessions — many of which come in the environmental form — to win votes for their bill.
New Hampshire Senator Judd Gregg met with thirteen other senators, President Obama, and member of Obama's staff at the White House last month to discuss the legislation, exhibiting his willingness to work on the issues with Senators Kerry, Graham, and Lieberman.
"The United States' reliance on foreign oil continues to grow and we annually send hundreds of billions of dollars overseas to pay for it. This situation is unacceptable," Senator Gregg stated in a press release on the issue last month. "A comprehensive approach to our nation's energy policy will strengthen our energy independence and national security, protect our environment, and help our economy grow and stay competitive."
Senator Gregg also asserted his commitment to clean energy sources.
"This policy should vastly expand nuclear energy as well as other clean sources, including wind, solar, geothermal, and biomass."
Congress returned to work from a two-week recess on Sunday, and the bill is expected to be introduced any day. Supporters hope to get it passed before midterm elections next year when the Democrats will most likely lose some of their currently pronounced majority.