At this stage, you might be asking yourself "What is in the renewables box?" so let us take a closer look at this. If we pop open the renewable energy box, we find the pie chart below.
By taking a look at the various slices of the renewable pie, we see that energy from burning wood and waste makes up just over half of the renewable energy produced in the state.
I was a little surprised at the large slice of wood and waste, and my first thought was that a lot of this energy comes from the incineration of municipal solid waste (MSW). As it turns out, I could not have been more wrong: MSW incineration is only about 2% of the renewable energy category. The bulk of the wood and waste slice is from the burning of wood and other biomass to generate electricity. It turns out that there are seven wood-burning power plants in the State and two more under construction. These wood burning plants are responsible for three quarters of the wood and waste slice (or 4% of the overall energy consumption in NH). My estimation is that 8% of the total energy input into electricity production is from wood. This is a lot larger than I anticipated and clearly fodder for a future post.
The remaining quarter of the wood and waste slice is from the burning of wood and wood pellets in homes and businesses. I, for one, am impressed that the Energy Information Administration, EIA, that put together all this valuable information is able to collect reliable information on firewood and wood pellet sales. A lot of these sales are to individual homeowners, only some of which are sold at retail. A good portion must be from individuals buying and selling truckloads of firewood to one another and, in many cases, even from trees on one's own property. This figure must be extraordinarily difficult to measure or estimate.
Turning back to the pie chart above, we can see that hydropower makes up about one-third of the renewables pie which goes directly into the electricity supply for the state. Corn-based ethanol, which is now part of the gasoline in our automobiles, represents 12% of our renewable energy use. How renewable this food-based energy source actually is, is debatable, but I will take another opportunity in the future to grind that particular axe. Wind is a relatively small component, only about 2% of renewable energy and driven largely by the Iberdrola wind farm in Lempster. With new wind projects underway, this portion will increase in the future. Solar thermal and photovoltaic are a minute fraction and, at this time, geothermal does not even feature in the EIA numbers. However, there are a good number of geothermal applications in the State but these tend to be small-scale residential or commercial-based installations and are thus difficult to track. It could be interesting to review this sometime in the future.
The pie chart shows where we were in 2010 regarding our renewable energy portfolio in New Hampshire. For our state it is largely a lot of wood and hydropower. Next week, in Part 2, I will be taking a look at historical trends in renewable energy and will look at where we might be going and if we should be spending so much time, effort and tax dollars supporting renewables.
Until next time, remember to turn off those lights when you leave the room.
Franklin Pierce University