The Power of Power

Healthcare, Trump and the economy are all lower on NH’s wish list



Illustration by Peter Noonan

Politicians paying close attention should know what New Hampshire voters want for Christmas this year: an energy plan.

The 2018 election was about many things nationwide. It was a Rorschach test of feelings toward President Trump, it was about the economy, and one out of three television ads in the closing days was about healthcare.

But in New Hampshire the discussion about energy continued as a major thread throughout the campaign season, providing arguably one of the biggest surprises of the year. From Northern Pass to the proposed Granite Bridge pipeline to biomass plants and just simply the high price of electricity in the state, energy really matters here.

Days before the November election, when Democratic candidate for governor Molly Kelly was asked during a New Hampshire Public Radio debate about her biggest accomplishment in the state Senate, it wasn’t voting for gay marriage or Medicaid expansion she cited. Nope, it was for sponsoring a net-metering bill aimed at encouraging renewable energy into the New England power grid.

If you listened to any local political debate or call-in radio show in the state, something involving energy would likely come up, if not play a big part of the hour.

Why this was the case isn’t particularly clear. The fight over Northern Pass, the proposed hydroelectric power line that would go down the spine of the state, has been going on for years. This has given time for groups on both sides to become more professional and savvy in their approaches. These groups then have informal spin-offs when other projects are announced, e.g. the Kinder Morgan pipeline in the southwestern part of the state or the Granite Bridge pipeline along Route 101 in the eastern part of the state.  

The energy industry, in turn, has amped up lobbying and campaign dollars to influence candidates. They also created an “energy summit” that attracts many candidates and has become so powerful that former US senator Kelly Ayotte made a rare in-state appearance to keynote the event this year.

So when Gov. Chris Sununu vetoed a pair of bills that would have provided subsidies to prop up a struggling biomass industry, you knew that it was going to be a thing, not just some wonky issue lost in the news cycle. In fact, a bipartisan coalition made statements on WMUR-TV days after the vetoes were signed.

Where we go from here in 2019 remains to be seen. With a field of maybe 20 Democratic presidential candidates crisscrossing the state, many will make the connection between climate change and local energy policy. Indeed, in the 2012 campaign, even Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich closed his New Hampshire presidential primary campaign declaring his opposition to Northern Pass.

It’s clear that this issue is hardly going away, and ambitious local and national politicians from both parties would be smart to take a position and lead on it. After all, Santa Claus may not be political, but it’s safe to assume he cares about reindeer-fuel efficiency in his sleigh and that he supports clean chimneys.

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