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Bar News - May 15, 2009

Environmental Law - Promoting Climate Action through Energy Efficiency


Marcia A. B. Thunberg

Old-fashioned home energy conservation has a new name: energy efficiency.  It is no longer just about being thrifty and laying insulation in the attic; it has taken on a life of its own as a ready means for tackling greenhouse gas emissions and climate change.        

New Hampshire has been quietly advancing energy efficiency programs well before their appearance in President Obama’s stimulus package.  The reason is that New Hampshire’s greenhouse gas emissions have been growing steadily since 1990 and are projected to double between 2008 and 2050 under a business-as-usual scenario. 


Buildings represent approximately 59 percent of the state’s energy use. The New Hampshire Climate Action Plan, issued in March 2009 by the N.H. Climate Change Policy Task Force, identified 10 strategies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions; maximizing energy efficiency in buildings was at the top.  When you consider that electric energy sales are projected to grow from approximately 11,200 GWHs (gigiwatt hours) in 2008 to over 13,000 GWHs by the year 2018, this means buildings may account for 6,608 to 7,670 GWHs by 2018.  A gigiwatt hour is equal to 1,000,000 kilowatt-hours. 


The energy efficiency programs offered by Public Service Company of New Hampshire, National Grid, N.H. Electric Cooperative and Unitil have already saved approximately 6,000 GWHs over the six years that the programs have been in effect.  These savings show that building energy efficiency can be an effective step in reducing emissions.


Energy efficiency programs will continue to expand as funds from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) become available for energy efficiency programs.  (RSA 125-O:23.)  Targets set by the Climate Action Plan will also drive growth in these programs.  For instance, approximately 604,000 housing units exist in New Hampshire and the Climate Action Plan has set a target of reducing net energy consumption by 60 percent in 30,000 existing homes annually.  For commercial and industrial buildings, the Climate Action Plan has set a target of reducing net energy use by 50 percent by 2030.


How might building energy efficiency programs affect you?  The classic answer is: it depends.  Numerous programs exist and each program has different eligibility criteria.  Utility-sponsored programs offer energy efficiency measures for residential, commercial, and industrial customers.  The utilities also fund programs for low-income customers.  A suggested first step is to contact your electric or gas utility, either by phone or by the Internet, to obtain self-service suggestions on how to reduce energy use.  The next step is to schedule an audit; a utility representative performs a walk-through audit and installs free, low-cost efficiency measures, such as aerators. 


A second-tier audit can perform a comprehensive assessment which can include for residential (including multi-family) customers whole-house air-sealing.  Again, this is free to customers.  Economic redevelopment programs are offered to multi-family, commercial, and industrial customers and project funding can be 50 percent of the project cost, up to $100,000.  Incentives for programs targeting new construction can offer up to 50 percent of the installed project costs, up to $250,000.  As you can see, the incentives can be significant.


The bottom line is – participate.  Undoubtedly a program exists that can meet your needs or your client’s needs.  Links to utility-sponsored energy efficiency programs can be found at:;; and  Other state and federal programs can be found through the Energy Efficiency & Sustainable Energy Board’s web site: 


By making buildings more energy efficient, we can reduce our greenhouse gas emissions and that benefits everyone.


Marcia Thunberg is an attorney with the NH Public Utilities Commission.  She has been a member of the NH Bar since 1995 and can be reached at 603-224-2437.

If you are in doubt about the status of any meeting, please call the Bar Center at 603-224-6942 before you head out.

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