By David A. Juvet and David Creer
The public’s attention is firmly focused on state and national elections which are a little more than three weeks away. So it’s easy for things to “slip through” without a great deal of scrutiny or commentary, including things that could profoundly impact New Hampshire’s economy and businesses struggling to come back from pandemic-induced challenges.
For example, a legislatively created Commission to Study the Environmental and Health Effects of Evolving 5G Technology (on which BIA has a seat) has been meeting since the spring to review safety concerns related to 5G telecommunications. Although scientific consensus around the globe is that there are no known health risks from radio frequency at the low levels embedded in 5G technology and approved for everyday consumer use, and respected establishments like the World Health Organization, American Cancer Society, and U.S. Food and Drug Administration have publicly concluded that the weak RF signals from base stations [cell towers] and wireless networks will not cause adverse health effects, fears about 5G technology persist.
The Commission to Study the Environmental and Health Effects of Evolving 5G Technology has yet to release its findings and recommendations, but early drafts indicate that a majority of those on the commission would like to slow, or stop, deploying this new technology in New Hampshire. BIA strongly disagrees. The safety of 5G is well-documented. Furthermore, the rest of the country, indeed the rest of the world, are embracing 5G technology because it’s much faster and more reliable than 4G, which most of us currently use. If New Hampshire is serious about competing for technology and advanced manufacturing jobs, creating roadblocks to 5G technology is exactly the wrong move. The commission is scheduled to release its final report soon. BIA will continue to forcefully advocate for implementation of 5G technology in New Hampshire.
Another issue that has not received much public attention involves the system benefits charge (SBC). This is a fee added to your electricity bill to fund energy efficiency projects in the state. A 2021-2023 energy efficiency plan was recently submitted to the Public Utilities Commission for approval. The plan was developed and recently approved by the Energy Efficiency & Sustainable Energy Board (EESE Board). The EESE Board was created by the New Hampshire legislature “to promote and coordinate energy efficiency, demand response, and sustainable energy programs in the state.” Their plan includes ramped-up efforts to increase energy efficiency through large increases in SBC fees for commercial and industrial ratepayers for each of the next three years.
SBC fees will increase from the current rate of 0.74 cents per kilowatt hour to 2.43 cents in the largest utility service area (Eversource [fees vary by each utility’s territory]). While a 1.7 cent increase may not seem all that significant, it represents a whopping 227% increase from today’s SBC. For manufacturers, hospitals, college campuses, large office complexes, and others, this would mean hundreds of thousands of dollars in extra energy costs. Even smaller enterprises will feel the pinch in this lethargic economy.
BIA supports an “all of the above” approach to keep energy costs low and maintain the reliability of the electric grid. This includes conservation, efficiency, renewable sources, natural gas, oil and coal when necessary to prevent blackouts, and nuclear energy. We support funding energy efficiency through the SBC, but not at the dramatically higher levels proposed by the EESE Board. New Hampshire’s electrical energy prices are currently 44% higher than the national average, according to the US Energy Information Administration. At a time when all enterprises are working to reduce costs to survive the COVID-19 economy, substantially increasing New Hampshire’s electricity costs further is misguided.
Policy makers must understand that businesses, particularly manufacturers which drive New Hampshire’s economy with superior jobs and economic stimulus more pronounced than any other sector, have options about where to locate and where to grow. Gone are the days when manufacturers were rooted in place by buildings and equipment. All things being equal, high electrical energy costs and growing concerns about electric grid reliability often make other locations around the country more attractive than New Hampshire — places like Texas, the Carolinas, and Virginia.
These two matters — potentially slowing or stopping deployment of 5G technology in New Hampshire and dramatically increasing electricity costs for manufacturers and other high energy users — represent unfortunate public policy decisions that will adversely affect employers of all shapes and sizes at a very challenging time for them. As the only statewide, broad-based business advocate in New Hampshire, BIA will be working hard to change the trajectory of these two issues to benefit businesses, not harm them.