An Open Letter to Dr. Lomborg, Dr. Peiser, and Mr. McConnellOctober 18, 2018
I would like to thank the organizers of the Portsmouth Conference for their invitation, and welcome panelists Dr. Bjorn Lomborg, Dr. Benny Peiser, and Mr. Charles McConnell to the New Hampshire Seacoast. According to the recently published "Underwater: Rising Seas, Chronic Floods and the Implications for U.S. Coastal Real Estate", a 1.8-foot sea level rise by 2045 would chronically inundate 1,875 of our residential properties, displace 2,970 of our residents, and deny local communities $8,822,843 in property taxes at today's values. Given that we rely on property taxes as our primary source of revenue, I ask the panelists to discuss the economic consequences of the Renewable Energy Policy that the City Council of the conference's namesake unanimously adopted on March 5 and have been systematically implementing since.
Dr. Peiser, you may already be skeptical given that your November 27, 2015 Wall Street Journal opinion editorial titled "Your Complete Guide to the Climate Debate" was dismissive of climate science. But my understanding is that you will be debating the economic considerations behind policy decisions and not the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's sea level rise scenarios, the peer-reviewed methodology of assessing flooding risk, or the Zillow property data the Union of Concerned Scientists used to reach their report's conclusions. It is admittedly difficult to link long-term climate change projections to today's extreme weather events. However, basic science dictates that increased Greenhouse Gas Emission levels are warming the atmosphere. This is increasing both water's rate of evaporation and the atmosphere's ability to hold moisture, contributing to this year's almost biblical deluges down south and forest fires out west. Just last week, the United Nation's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reported that governments must adopt policies immediately to transform the world's economy or we should expect the atmosphere to warm as much as 1.5 degrees Celsius by 2040, resulting in an estimated $54 trillion in damages from flooding, wildfires, and far scarier food shortages.
The City of Portsmouth's Renewable Energy Policy that I am asking you to address aims to move not just municipal operations, but all residences, businesses, and both vehicles originating in and traveling through Portsmouth towards becoming a 'Net Zero Energy' community. The decision to include the entire community in our policy was based on our most recent inventory finding that all municipal operations generate only 16,997 tons of Greenhouse Gas Emissions, or roughly just one percent of Portsmouth's total 1,571,947 emission tonnage. Our definition of a 'Net Zero Energy' Community is very similar to the Department of Energy's definition, where in ours the total energy consumed would be less than or equal to locally produced renewable energy. Seeking a 'Net Zero Energy' Community was realistic compared to pursuing trending 100% renewable energy for all electricity by 2030 and then 100% renewable energy for all heat by 2050 because we are a retail choice state. 100% policies are likely unobtainable in New Hampshire simply because municipalities in retail choice states cannot require residents to purchase energy from specific renewable energy sources like in traditionally regulated states like Vermont, where Burlington achieved 100% by purchasing their 7.4 MW Winooski River hydropower facility.
The City Council has already begun pursuing some of the low hanging fruits from our Renewable Energy Committee's Final Report & Recommendations to increase renewable energy, improve energy efficiency, and over time electrify our transportation sector. Earlier this year we requested cost estimates to purchase Renewable Energy Credits for all municipal operations when our existing electricity contract expires next October, and just this Monday we began the process of pursuing a Public Utilities Commission Renewable Energy Fund grant for a large new renewable energy project. The City of Portsmouth previously received a similar $450,000 grant to install the solar arrays at our high school and at our water treatment facility, but New Hampshire now allows for virtual net metering of municipal facilities, making larger municipal renewable energy projects economically viable. Further, in September we expanded our Solar Energy Tax Exemption, created a Wind Energy Tax Exemption, and I plan to ask our state delegation to pursue enabling legislation for similar property tax exemptions for geothermal, battery storage, and mini split heat pumps.
Many of us find renewables tantalizing to talk about, but everyone's total energy usage has to be greatly reduced for renewable energy to be effective. With buildings and construction materials accounting for almost half of all energy used in the United States, earlier this month the City Council began discussing updating our codified version of the International Energy Conservation Code to require all new construction to have both energy efficient building envelopes and energy efficient mechanical, lighting, and power systems. Further, once the legislature fixes a flaw in the enabling statute, I anticipate the City Council creating Commercial Property-Assessed Clean Energy Districts. New Hampshire allows for private loans to be made without a down payment in such districts to owners of existing commercial buildings to finance projects that will pay for themselves in energy savings. Finally, Portsmouth's transportation network contributes 72% of our Greenhouse Gas Emissions. In order to encourage electrification, an electric vehicle charging station ordinance was adopted in August, three more charging stations will open with our new parking garage later this month, and I anticipate Volkswagen Settlement funding being secured to further green our fleet and install a DC Fast Charger in Market Square.
If you have not already visited, I encourage you to depart the Wentworth by the Sea via New Hampshire Route 1B to enjoy the scenic South End neighborhood that Hurricane Sandy Pre-Disaster Mitigation grant funding has shown will be forever altered by severe coastal storms, sea-level change, and rising groundwater. Fortunately, last week's announcement that American economists William Nordhaus and Paul Romer are the joint recipients of this year's Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences, for their models demonstrating that markets and innovation can still curtail climate change, gives the New Hampshire Seacoast a reason to hope if similar policies to Portsmouth's are adopted.