[A text-only version of the Foreword is below. Click here to see the full 60-page version with graphics, or cut and paste thus URL in your browser. https://docs.google.com/document/d/1YpU_U48Qpj4nCM0f0CC4d2fcCiWG40SVCzQWyXsWJj0/edit?usp=sharing]
A Renewable Energy Future for New Hampshire
An Action Plan with a Focus on Demand and Consumption
( Oct. 13, 2020 )
Foreword (Robert Backus, Peter Somssich, Ken Wells)
The best time to plan for the future is now. Despite our current issues surrounding our health in the pandemic and our severely depressed economy, we nevertheless must not fail to plan for our children and grandchildren’s future, and that of our state of New Hampshire.
In 2018 many of this paper’s authors were involved in producing the white paper: “A 100% Renewable Energy Strategy for New Hampshire’s Future”. Its purpose was to be a counterpoint to the “New Hampshire’s 10-Year State Energy Strategy Plan” issued by the Governor’s office in April 2018. We felt that the plan was grossly inadequate and just endorsement of the status quo. Our white paper was intended as a tool to inventory all of the NH home grown renewable energy resources that our state already had available. Our state has many realistic opportunities to increase our readily available renewable energy supplies, with offshore wind installations and importation of onshore wind and hydropower. Our 2018 white paper also emphasized the desirability of increasing energy efficiency by all users. It focused primarily on in-state electricity generation and usage. But electricity generation accounts for only 45% of the energy that our state produces annually. In this 2020 Action Plan we will focus instead on the much larger amount of energy that is consumed in New Hampshire, which is about evenly split between transportation, residential power and home heating, and commercial plus industrial consumption.
In this 2020 Action Plan, we will outline a framework for a comprehensive energy plan. We will discuss why certain components are important to such a framework, and what actions have already been undertaken, or should be undertaken to promote a path to a 100% clean, renewable energy future for our state.
A framework for action on our state’s total energy demand must begin with a vigorous attempt to reduce our energy use for electricity, heating and transportation. Since such actions will have an impact on our state utilities, we must find ways of providing the kind of incentives to them that encourage them to partner with us in such an effort. Hand in hand with our effort to reduce our energy demand, we must support in-state development of renewable energy sources, whether by industrial users, municipalities or residential/community efforts. All energy generators using renewable sources such as solar, wind, hydro and biomass, should be allowed to sell their energy at a fair price into the main grid. In parts of our state where the energy resources and demand are poorly matched, forming collaborative microgrids or “energy islands” could allow adjacent municipalities or regional entities to cooperate. By creating a local microgrid, they will be able to attract new and support existing businesses, while creating new jobs and reducing the financial burden to taxpayers of the combined municipalities. Furthermore, pursuing the possibility of using energy storage facilities to complement intermittent energy generators, allowing energy to be stored for that time when it is most needed, must be part of any New Hampshire energy independence and reliability effort. Our vision of New Hampshire’s transportation system must also change to anticipate more electric cars and trucks, as well as vehicles powered by compressed gases such as propane and hydrogen.
During the past two years the NH legislature has attempted to promote numerous initiatives to move us forward on our path to a renewable future. Unfortunately, most of these efforts were blocked as the result of partisan politics and a resistance to change. Any action plan needs to recognize the political and practical realities in New Hampshire, so that we know how to begin. Most of us can agree that a clean, renewable and sustainable energy future is our common goal that we all share. However, different people define the terms “clean”, “renewable” and “sustainable” somewhat differently, so the co-editors suggest that we begin work to standardize our language about these concepts. For example, a “renewable” energy source should be one that, with proper management, will not be depleted over time and will continue to be available. Such a definition precludes fossil fuels, such as coal, oil and natural gas, and also nuclear energy as it is currently deployed. A “sustainable” energy source is one that will continue to be available, at a price including externalities such as health and environmental impacts, that society deems affordable. That is why an energy source with volatile prices, that faces depletion, or builds up a toxic waste product is not sustainable. Finally, most people would agree that a “clean energy” source is one that neither generates climate-endangering greenhouse gas emissions (e.g. CO2 or methane) nor creates any other hazardous consequences.
Because not all of the authors agree on the preceding definitions, and because we wish to be practical with our recommendations for actions, some of the proposals related to energy may not seem to be in total harmony with an action plan which hopes to have as its goal, not just a clean energy future, but a 100% sustainable and renewable energy future for our state. However, one area where we all agree completely is the great potential inherent in Energy Efficiency in improving all aspects related to energy. We want to emphasize that a renewable energy future continues to be our goal, but our long journey must begin from our current reality.
We have recruited a group of authors with specific knowledge and expertise in energy topics, to explain the importance of these areas for our state, and to suggest actions that effectively address those areas. This action plan does not represent a consensus view of all the topics discussed, but gives voice to several points of view that are part of clean energy’s political reality. That is why the author of each contributed section is clearly identified; they are representing their own view. When a specific author is not listed, that section was contributed by the coeditors, using the various sources cited. Despite these shortcomings, we believe this action plan provides a good resource for policy-makers and lawmakers to use in setting a course toward our energy future. The authors recognize that climate change is already occurring and prompt adaptation to this fact is imperative. But they also see adaptation as a positive economic opportunity, because New Hampshire's aspiration to a 100% renewable energy goal will bring new opportunities and benefits to all the people of New Hampshire, while mitigating and perhaps helping to reverse the global effects of climate change.
The cheapest watt of energy is a "negawatt" - a watt of energy saved. Because that saved watt was not lost, was not purchased, and was not produced, energy efficiency produces “negawatts” that are the lowest-hanging fruit available to us.
- Reps Balch & Mann
KDW for the Beacon Oct 15, 2020
As I write this, we are on the brink of what I’m sure will go down as one of the most-talked-about elections of our time.
The United States of America, despite its struggles and faults, is arguably the oldest and most successful democracy on the planet today. A crucial feature has been our long tradition of expanding free and fair elections to all our citizens, regardless of race, gender or socio-economic standing. It has not been a smooth road, however. To ensure that all of us can continue to participate in the voting that is central to our democratic republic, all citizens should take an active role in our democracy and vote!
Your vote DOES matter!
If you are a person who has never voted before, whether you have recently reached voting age, or recently become a naturalized citizen of the United States, or have simply never chosen to exercise your right, now is the time to play your consequential role in this important process. There is same-day registration at the polls; just bring your ID (proof of age, domicile and citizenship) and ask the friendly poll workers to guide you to the Supervisor of the Checklist.
New Hampshire Leads the Way
New Hampshire is justifiably proud of its important leadership in the process of choosing our leaders and policymakers, and in underscoring the power of the people in ensuring the smooth transfer of power from one election cycle to the next. New Hampshire is well known for hosting the first-in-the-nation primaries, which affords anyone who wishes to get involved an unsurpassed opportunity to meet the prospective candidates of every party, ask them questions directly, and inform them of our views on issues that are important to us. This last one is perhaps the most unique opportunity we have in our state - as the first voters candidates see on the campaign trail, we get to influence the candidates’ stump speeches and platforms in their earliest, formative stages.
There is another reason we New Hampshirites can take pride - we have about the highest voter turnout in the nation, according to electproject.org. Of all the states, only Minnesota consistently bested New Hampshire’s admirable 72.5% turnout of eligible voters in the past three presidential elections. New Hampshire Secretary of State Bill Gardner takes pride in this figure, saying his goal has been to make New Hampshire the easiest state in the Union to cast your vote in.
Cast your Vote!
It is important that every American citizen casts their one ballot and participates personally in our “government of the people, by the people and for the people”. Be an informed voter, and fill in your choices for all 14 offices on the ballot. Here in Andover many volunteers have been working hard for months to enable us to do just that. The New Hampshire Attorney General reviewed the Andover team’s work for the September primary election and deemed it “an excellent operation.” Since this spring, there have been months of teleconference discussions and training between the NH Secretary of State’s office and the sworn moderators, town clerks and supervisors of the checklist of all 221 towns and 13 cities in New Hampshire.
The widest possible range of options were made available for Andover voters to cast their ballots:
⁃ You could vote in-person on November 3 while wearing a mask, using the north door of the Andover Elementary / Middle School polling place.
⁃ You could vote in-person without a mask, using the south door of the AEMS polling place.
⁃ You could vote early by requesting a ballot to be mailed to you, and then returning the ballot either by bringing it directly to the Town Clerk or through the mail. (However, it must arrive by 5pm on Nov 3 to be counted!)
⁃ You could use the drive-through voting option offered on October 24 or 31 at Andover Town Hall.
⁃ Absentee ballots can also be obtained and cast at the curbside voting station on Election Day.
Note that the official ballot and absentee ballots are identical. Every ballot is marked “Absentee Ballot and Official Ballot” and is placed in the ballot box before counting begins. Care has been taken that your right to vote by “secret ballot” has been protected.
As COVID-19 has necessitated further expansion of our right to free and fair elections, the state of New Hampshire has responded promptly and conscientiously. In every case, the customary checks and security measures are observed to ensure that each voter is on the Andover voters checklist, or that new voters have gone through the usual process involving identification and voter registration. New Hampshire’s election procedures, and particularly Andover’s all-paper secret ballot system are the result of literally centuries of experience in making democracy work. Be sure to be part of it and VOTE!
Ken Wells candidate profile for Beacon
As your current Representative in Merrimack county District 1, including the towns of Andover, Danbury and Salisbury, I have worked hard on issues that affect us all.
Principal among these is the unfair and unconstitutional way that New Hampshire relies on property taxes, taxing people in different towns at unequal rates for essentially identical properties. Moreover, the state’s habit of “downshifting” its constitutional obligation “to provide adequate education” not only places extra burden on towns, but has had a growing effect over the years at driving young people and young families away from NH. Today, 62% of NH’s high school students leave the state seeking education and opportunities. Most never return, and other young people are not coming to NH in equal numbers to live and work. This is an ominous trend for NH’s future that policymakers must address.
An issue personally important to me and to most NH people of every political stripe, is protecting the quality of NH’s natural environment. The natural beauty of our forests, mountains, streams and lakes, plus the wildlife all around us is vitally important to our quality of life, whether you are an avid hiker, kayaker, rider, hunter or fisherman, or if you just like to take it easy and enjoy the scenery of a beautiful day. Moreover, our region’s natural beauty and resources are important to so many of our livelihoods, as we rely on tourism and forestry to make our livings.
I’m proud of my votes to help keep our property taxes in check and significantly increase funding through revenue sharing for our towns, our schools and our University system. I’m proud of having voted for Paid Family Leave to help families cope, especially vital during this pandemic. I’m proud that I have been able to use my extensive experience and background while serving on the House Science, Technology and Energy Committee. I have been the author of a bill to give loggers equal protection to landowners under the law, two bills to get the sneaky influence of “dark money” out of NH government, a bill to reduce both pollution and people’s energy bills by pushing for improved technology and efficiency on the electric grid, and a bill to “level the playing field” so that new NH energy enterprises have a chance against subsidized fracked gas from out of state.
I’m happy to have used my influence to do good and to bring people together in spite of their initial positions of conflict. I used that influence to compel internet companies to engage with the Danbury Broadband Committee, ultimately succeeding in an agreement to provide high-speed internet to every household in Danbury. (I’m currently working on the same for unserved parts of Salisbury.) I also have brought together people of both parties, and from industry and education, to begin building an industry-sponsored apprenticeship program, so our young people can continue their education after high school and launch their careers without incurring debt, and even collect a paycheck as they learn on the job.
Please have a look at my website electkenwells.org to read in detail about how I have worked for you the past two years. There’s much that still needs to be done! I respectfully ask for your vote so I can continue to represent your best interests in the House of Representatives in the upcoming session.
KDW for the September 2020 Andover Beacon
Battling for Broadband - Danbury wins the “long game”
Politicians often talk about “fighting” for their constituents in Concord. I can assure you, in such “fights” no punches are actually thrown, and Representatives do not grapple their ideological opponents, rolling around on the floor, pulling each others’ hair and neckties. The actual struggles can get plenty heated, but the real challenge is how to get beyond the argument and bring people together, so they can work together. This type of struggle is much longer and drawn out, like holding a team together through a series of matches in the pursuit of a championship. Here’s what such a struggle actually looks like, from my point of view.
When I was a boarding school teacher, I had a mentor, friend and colleague named Fritz Wiedergott. He was a World Champion skeet shooter and a fabulously wise coach of soccer, wrestling and lacrosse. I remember him telling his teams year after year, “Good luck is what happens when Opportunity meets Preparedness.” Fritz was persistently the winningest coach in the league, building a soccer dynasty with well over 200 victories and many league championships over his career. He always looked ahead, and made sure that he and his teams were prepared before every match.
A persistent citizen’s group in Danbury has been working for years to improve high-speed internet access. I'm happy to say that the Danbury Broadband Committee used the same strategy as Fritz, so they were well prepared when Opportunity finally came knocking.
On a Sunday night a couple of weeks back I got a happy phone call from a “legislative liaison” (aka lobbyist) for an internet service provider with whom I had what I would mildly describe as “a somewhat abrasive exchange” in a Science, Technology and Energy hearing more than a year ago. Back then, the lobbyist had testified that “98% of the folks living in our Company’s territory have broadband access, except perhaps in the far North Country”. “In fact”, I corrected the Company representative, “only 9% of Danbury households have internet that meets the broadband internet standard. Moreover, your Company’s ridiculous claim of high service percentage makes Danbury ineligible for USDA grants meant to bring broadband into underserved rural communities.”
For years, Internet Service Providers (ISPs) had been putting off inquiries by the Danbury Broadband Committee, telling them Danbury’s population is so spread out it didn’t make good business sense to even consider bringing high speed internet service into town. Today’s competitive markets among ISPs, somewhat like the markets for health insurance, encourage providers to “cherrypick” the most profitable customers and avoid providing service to folks who will be more expensive to serve. As you can imagine, Danbury residents were beyond frustrated by this. Especially these days, with remote learning, social distancing and “zooming” into meetings for business and to catch up with friends and relatives, not having broadband is a terrible disadvantage. The Danbury team felt it couldn't win, because the ISPs wouldn't even show up to play!
On that day a year ago, that lobbyist was really unhappy with being called out and “got all up in my grille” after the hearing adjourned. I listened patiently, then calmly pointed out to the lobbyist that, based on what I just heard, their Company, and indeed the entire ISP industry was headed the right way to become a regulated utility in NH. Enacting such a law would mean that the NH government would treat their industry as a geographic monopoly (as electric utilities are today) and prescribe fair rates and all the terms of service they provide - not a delicious prospect for this profit-driven industry!
The Company responded quickly by sending an engineer, a financial officer and a serious pitch to the next Danbury Broadband Committee meeting. The Danbury team included Linda Ray Wilson, Jessica Hatch, Kris Martin and Nikki Quartulli. Also attending the meetings were Carol Miller, NH Director of Broadband Technology in the Department of Business and Economic Affairs, Rep. David Karrick, Bob Podolski, a retired IT consultant enlisted by David to help the committee evaluate proposals, and me. After many more meetings, a complete engineering proposal and financial offer was made to Danbury. Unfortunately, the attractive proposal did not find its way to a Town Warrant this winter, and the momentum stalled.
So in the recent Sunday night phone call, the lobbyist was positively ebullient to share with me the surprising news that the Company had just been awarded a CARES Act grant ($6.4M federal COVID relief money to enhance rural broadband statewide) to bring high-speed internet via fiber to every business and residence in five NH towns, including Danbury! The ISP will get paid once they fulfill their promise to bring “fiber to the premises” of every Danbury household by December 15, 2020. The reason Danbury got the nod was that detailed applications for CARES dollars had to be submitted just 10 days after the initial request for proposals, so only a few towns that already had a completed engineering proposal were in the game. Danbury was fully Prepared when Opportunity knocked, and they won! Fritz would be so proud!
Looking ahead and getting ready for the next game
The implications of making high-speed internet available throughout Danbury brings the exciting possibility of attracting tech businesses such as software development companies, IT companies looking for fast connections and low rent to locate their servers, and other web-based, work-from-home enterprises. It will be exciting to see what sorts of economic development will be stimulated in Danbury, and what this tech upgrade does for property values in the area.
Next up: broadband access for North Road from Salisbury to Andover - I’m working on it and have some ideas about how to motivate Salisbury’s ISPs to come to the table. I have found that good things happen when we stop saying “No!” and find a way to work together in the direction of progress.
If you would like to know more about bills I’ve sponsored for campaign finance reform, for industry-sponsored apprenticeships, for fairer forestry laws, and for reducing pollution, or if you’d like to read speeches and essays I’ve made for or against bills during the past two years, please look at my website, electkenwells.org. You will even find a collection of past “Reports from Concord” articles published in the Andover Beacon.
If you would like to talk with me about any local matter you think I should know about, please call me at home 735-5756 or email email@example.com.
Stay healthy and be safe, and don’t forget to vote in the September 8 primary!
HB735 Info sheet
Co-authors: Rep. Lee Oxenham and Rep. Ken Wells
[Click here to go to the "Carbon Cash-Back" website.]
New Hampshire’s “Carbon Cash-back” proposes a plan that has been heralded by thousands of leading economists as the fairest, most effective, and least costly way to reduce the growing damage caused by carbon dioxide pollution. Sometimes “Carbon Cash-back” is called by a technical description: a “carbon fee and dividend” program. Here’s how each part of the Carbon Cash-back plan works:
Carbon Fee – A gradually-rising fee on the net carbon dioxide pollution from fuels that increase atmospheric CO2.
• Purpose: Creates market-driven demand for cleaner energy technologies. Reduces NH carbon emissions by correcting market distortions due to “free” carbon pollution.
• Details: Pollution fee starts at $20 per short ton of CO2e, increases $10/ton each year. Assessed once, at the point of importation into NH, and is reduced by the amount of CO2 emission fees already paid on a particular shipment nationally or regionally. (No double-dipping)
• Exemption for non-emissive uses of carbon feedstocks, such as polymer and pharmaceuticals manufacturing.
Carbon “Cash-back” Dividend Fund – Rebates essentially 100% of net revenues in equal shares to all NH citizens over 18 (less an estimated 1% for postage and administrative expenses).
• Purpose: Reimburses NH people in equal shares for the damage experienced across our state to our health, our property and damage to the natural beauty and economic value of our NH environment.
•Stimulates local economies, by encouraging local renewable energy jobs and projects. Rather than sending about $4 billion NH dollars out of state in exchange for polluting fuels (which NH does not extract or refine), more NH dollars would be spent on locally produced energy like hydro, solar and wind, to be spent and re-spent in NH.
• Maintains revenue neutrality. This “cash-back” method of putting a price on carbon pollution has an important advantage over cap-and trade or carbon taxes. It is emphatically not a tax, but a reimbursement to citizens from endeavors that damage our shared atmosphere.
•The “cash-back” rebate offsets fuel cost increases for more than 60% of NH households. The rebate’s break-even point covers the equivalent of an individual’s annual purchase of 1600 gallons of liquid petroleum fuels (gasoline + heating oil + diesel), or 2500 gallons of natural gas or propane. It will result in net pocket cash for individuals who use less than these per capita amounts. (This projection was based on Feb 2020 prices, before fuel prices dropped precipitously. Now that most fossil fuel is 2/3 as expensive, the break-even jumps up to 2400 gallons of gasoline or heating oil yearly, or 3750 gallons of natural gas or propane, making CCB even easier to bear. Most folks use far less than this, but it's frankly hard to project what the fee revenues will be, since demand has also fallen off.)
• Details: Equal share to adults who complete an opt-in form establishing a bonafide NH residence and mailing address. Administered by NH Dept of Environmental Services. Options for payment are full-value rebate annually, or monthly payments with $1 postage and handling deducted. First-year estimated revenue of $300 million would result in a citizen’s annual rebate check of roughly $300 or, if the monthly option is chosen, a $24 check each month.
Regulatory Adjustment – Reduces NH’s fee on covered CO2 emissions if the federal bill is passed, by the amount already paid to US. (no “double dipping”)
Ken Wells' Report from Concord
written May 15, 2020
published in the June issue of the Andover Beacon
As of June 10, the NH Legislature is back in session again, finally. Since the House of Representatives’ 19-hour marathon session back on March 12, the House has been unable to meet. The Governor declared a COVID-19 state of emergency on March 17, locking the State House and the Legislative Office Building. On March 25, the Democratic caucus of the House of Representatives sent a letter to the Governor, imploring him to issue a stay-at-home order to protect the people of NH and slow the exponential spread of the disease.
Shortly thereafter, the Governor issued stay-at-home orders, followed by many other extraordinary emergency measures designed to prevent widespread loss of life, to prevent overwhelming our hospitals, and to direct federal relief funds to keep our state, our businesses and our families from experiencing catastrophic failure, in the short term.
But unfortunately, this coronavirus is not programmed to be a short term phenomenon. We are exposed to all kinds of viruses daily, and fortunately the human body’s natural defenses are almost impenetrable. But if a single copy of a virus gets through, it may penetrate and commandeer one of that person’s cells, instructing that cell to become a tiny virus-producing factory. For viruses like chicken pox, measles or herpes, the infected cells do nothing else and become so full of virus copies they finally burst, causing a tiny crater-like wound and an immediate immune reaction. However, the novel coronavirus is sneakier than that. It instructs each infected cell to export thousands of copies of the virus across its membrane into the outside world, while continuing to carry on the cell’s “official duties”. For a while, the person’s immune system patrols past the infected cell and notices nothing amiss - the cell looks okay from the outside, like a house where the lights come on at night and newspapers aren’t accumulating on the porch. Meanwhile, the neighboring cells are surrounded by that exported virus, become infected, and a chain reaction of infection begins. This can go on silently for days or weeks. Everytime an infected person coughs or breathes, they exhale a cloud of virus-laden droplets, even before they feel sick.
Eventually, most people’s immune systems will notice that many cells are not right, and begin aggressively destroying the bad cells. This is the moment you begin to feel sick and feverish. Unfortunately, the two week delay before recognition of all those infected cells can, in too many cases, cause the aggressive human immune response to get out of hand. The over-reaction destroys vast amounts of tissue, permanently damaging lungs, kidneys and possibly even brain tissue. The majority of people will survive a corona infection but sustain damage, just as the majority of humankind survived smallpox but were scarred for life. This coronavirus is not a bug you want to get!
The coronavirus is spreading, not just from cell to cell, but from house to house across our whole country. By the time you read this, the number of deaths nationally will be nearly 100,000, and it’s likely someone you know will have contracted the disease. I have been keeping close tabs on the advance of the virus in Merrimack County, Franklin and Andover, and the virus is here and beginning to spread with increasing speed. In the abstract, it seems like watching the advance of a California wildfire in slow motion. With the coronavirus swirling around us like an invisible wildfire, it would be foolish in the extreme to blithely travel out and about, without taking adequate precautions. That is why I have signed a letter with fellow Legislators of both the House and Senate, urging the Governor to enact a mandatory order for protective facemasks in public.
It has been shown that without social distancing and protective masks, the probability of catching coronavirus from encountering an infected person is very likely - about 75%. However, if both people are wearing masks, the probability drops below 1%. Those are good odds. Please always wear a mask. Be sure to cover both your nose and mouth, and wash or replace your mask after use. Simple soapy water absolutely destroys the virus on skin, clothing and frequently touched surfaces.
What we have been accomplishing by staying at home has had an important effect and has kept NH hospitals from becoming overwhelmed in the first months of the pandemic. But the trajectory of the disease continues to be upward. In March, the number of cases in our local area was zero, but we could observe the number of cases explode in the major metropolitan areas of Boston and New York, doubling every three days. In the week we began social distancing in NH, the virus continued to spread, but it now took seven days to double the number of cases. As the sixth week went by, the time to double had increased to fifteen days. At eight weeks out from the state of emergency declaration, cases are doubling every seventeen days. It is incorrect to describe the rate of infections as “slowing down”; it is still accelerating, but not as strongly as it accelerates without social distancing and staying at home.
I know everyone misses their “old normal” life and is impatient to get back to work or play as they once did. The White House and the Center for Disease Control both recommend that stay at home restrictions remain in place until the disease “has a downward trajectory for fourteen days”. At this time, the trajectory of the disease remains strongly upward. The number of cases continues to double roughly every two and a half weeks because infected people who don’t yet feel sick are still running around spreading the virus. These people are tools of the disease, acting as “invisible infectors”. In theory, if every single person in the world could go four weeks without exposing another person, the virus would become extinct. Sadly, we have not yet all agreed to cooperate this way, even though the lives of our friends and families, as well as our jobs and our livelihoods depend on it.
Someone you know might already be infected today, shedding a cloud of virus with every breath, and not even know it. It is not okay to ignore social distancing. It is not okay to go out in public without a face covering to protect the people around you. The disorderly clamor to “reopen the economy” while spreading the disease further is irresponsible and wrong-headed. What amount of money is more important than the lives of the other people around you? Is it your “right” to endanger the lives of people around you, just as surely as if you were driving drunk? Instead, please identify yourself as a responsible person by wearing a mask in public, and be courteous and kind in helping others remember their masks and to maintain a safe distance. If restrictions are lifted now while the disease is still increasing, the effect on people’s lives and the economy will be catastrophic and permanent. The consequences of the pandemic are so serious, our response must transcend our political and ideological differences. We are all in the same boat drifting toward certain disaster, and we must agree to row it together to escape.
The most important recent development in fighting the virus is that NH has received $61 million to expand COVID-19 testing. NH residents with any COVID-19 symptoms, or with underlying health conditions, or are over the age of 60, or who are healthcare workers can request and reserve a test. Interested individuals can sign up and reserve a test by going to the online portal at https://prd.blogs.nh.gov/dos/hsem/?page_id=8479. They can also email firstname.lastname@example.org, call the COVID-19 Coordinating Office at 603-271-5980, or by going through a health care provider. There are now seven drive-through testing sites as part of the Community-Based COVID-19 Testing Program. The drive-through testing locations are in Claremont, Concord, Lancaster, Milford, Plymouth, Tamworth and Rochester. The nearest to Andover is at 28 Stickney Avenue in Concord. You must sign up online or by phone to reserve a test. Please share this information with those who need to know about it. If we can identify “invisible infectors”, we can begin to trace all the folks they have exposed, isolate and treat them, and beat back the wildfire advance of coronavirus, as several other countries have already done.
While we don’t yet have a vaccine, we have effective weapons to slow the accelerating spread. The virus is nothing but a mindless set of instructions for creating a mutiny in human cells, incapable of altering its behavior. We humans however are intelligent and adaptable. We can change how we behave to protect ourselves, our families and our neighbors. We know that our bodies are virtual fortresses against viral infections, and our vulnerabilities to coronavirus are few and very specific. The coronavirus can only be spread by droplets or aerosol from an infected person’s lungs, being inhaled or similarly transferred to another person’s airways. If we wear masks, wash our hands frequently and avoid touching our noses, mouth or eyes (as medical professionals routinely do) we can avoid spreading our own undiscovered infection to others, and we can avoid becoming infected ourselves. This is not just about our own personal protection, but about protecting our whole world of friends, neighbors and relatives.
We have a chance to reverse the spread of the disease, by heeding scientific experts who are working around the clock to bring us accurate information, to develop better lab tests and to develop new vaccines and effective treatments. Please be safe, help protect everyone else in our wonderful community, and look for ways to help your neighbors who are struggling to get through this.
Ken Wells' Report from Concord April 15, 2020
The customary title of this column, “Report from Concord”, seems peculiar to me now, since I’ve been unable to go to Concord for the past month. Just days after the all-night House session I described in the previous issue in the Beacon, the Governor locked down the State House and all the related government offices, due to the rising pandemic. Roughly a week later, after the State House was locked down, the Governor issued his stay-at-home order for the rest of NH citizens - a wise and necessary measure to quell the exponential rise in COVID-19 cases across NH.
But what does closing the State House mean? It is not merely a building that has been shut down. Because the Senate and the House are unable to meet, there can be no quorum, so no votes, and their standing committees cannot hold any public hearings to advance legislation. The Executive Council, a powerful and unique NH entity which approves or rejects every major purchase or contract with the State, is also barred from meeting in the State House, so no new state contracts can legally be entered into.
Many are raising serious concerns about whether our representative democracy will be able to function under these emergency conditions, especially since the COVID-19 emergency will likely continue much longer than any of us would like. As long as the emergency ban on meetings is in effect, and until virtual government meetings by teleconferences can be recognized as legally acceptable, a serious obstacle exists to the constitutional functioning of our state government. Unfortunately, we have not quite figured out how our representative system can work during the current pandemic, which rightly demands physical distancing, because the legislative bodies cannot meet to discuss and modify their own rules to respond to the crisis, nor can they update existing laws.
History tells us repeatedly, times of crisis are times when autocrats have tried to increase and consolidate their power. Not to draw a direct comparison to NH, but as a worst-case cautionary tale, recall that in 1933, Hitler cemented totalitarian control of his country’s government with an emergency decree he issued the day after the German legislative building, the Reichstag”, was totally destroyed by a mysterious nighttime fire. Unopposed, Hitler was free to do what he did. Let’s learn from history.
With the State House shut down, all the co-equal branches of NH government face a significant obstacle to their function, and our constitutional democracy faces a number of risks. The guard rails imposed by the NH Constitution’s “checks and balances” provide a dynamic and productive struggle among 1) the “General Court”, composed of the House & Senate Legislative bodies, 2) the Executive Council, who must approve the State’s contractual expenditures 3) the NH judicial courts, and 4) the Governor’s Executive offices.
How does the venerable NH Constitution envision government? Your interests, as citizens of NH’s Merrimack District 1, are primarily represented by your elected officials in the Legislature. (That is, myself, David Karrick and Senator French.) The courts, presided over by judges appointed by this and previous Governors, make sure that everyone is playing according to the “rulebook” embodied in the NH Constitution and in statute. The Governor, as chief executive, is granted vast and sweeping powers he can wield with agility in the face of a sudden crisis like COVID-19, but his emergency measures are subject to review in the slower, but powerfully deliberative processes within the Legislature and the Courts.
The NH Constitution is a brilliant document, crafted and refined over many years to consider past and future circumstances, and even such an emergency as this current pandemic was planned for. In the case of emergency spending, the Legislature’s “power of the purse” was delegated in RSA 9:13(d) to a small bipartisan “dream team” called the Joint Legislative Fiscal Committee, who has the power to approve or nix any emergency expenditures on behalf of the full Legislature. (It’s called “joint” because its members include both House Representatives and Senators of both parties.) Especially important these days, the Joint Fiscal Committee is constitutionally permitted to conduct its business via telephone or internet teleconferences.
What does the NH Constitution say we are supposed to be doing, to quickly and constitutionally distribute federal emergency aid to NH people when it arrives this month? Yeah, that’s not what’s happening right now. The Governor has created his own, different “dream team” which he calls “GOFERR”. This body supposedly has oversight, but possesses no constitutional power to reject or halt expenditures of the $1.25 billion dollars in federal funds, to whomever, by the Governor. GOFERR seems aptly named, because its only power, it seems, is to rubber-stamp the Governor’s decisions on what happens to the money . Now, I trust that the Governor means to do right by the People of NH, but could anyone stop him if he decided to send part of NH’s $1.25 billion in federal emergency funds to say, bailout the out-of-state industries that are his political supporters? The NH Constitution says the existing Joint Fiscal Committee must be the body empowered to stand in the way of such questionable decisions, and that the Joint Fiscal Committee is already constitutionally empowered to make sure that the People get the monies intended for them.
The problem of the day (yesterday, as I write this, two weeks before press time) is that the suit challenging GOFERR brought by the Legislature will take some time to grind through the courts, and in the meantime, the federal money might already have been spent improperly. Good luck getting any of that money back to NH people after the check clears, especially since it would be hard and slow to get the money back if it was cashed by an out-of-state entity. (If you would like more information about what state & federal aid might be available to you, your children or your small business, see the information posted at AndoverBeacon.com, or call me.)
I’m convinced that GOFERR isn’t in the best interests of the People of NH, and bypassing the Joint Legislative Fiscal Committee is not consistent with the NH Constitution I swore an oath to protect.
Optimistic thoughts on being a homebody in Andover
We all worry about “bad things happening” to us and to those dear to us in these pandemic days. There is growing anxiousness about the waning of our livelihoods and our environment, looming just over the horizon. I admit I feel cut off from my former routine and occupation, giving me too much time to worry about my grown children who are at risk as “essential employees” in the high-risk environments of grocery retail and an urban medical research lab.
But as frightening as these times may be, it is also true that times of adversity are when we learn of inspiring stories about acts of kindness and bravery, of neighbors reaching out to help their neighbors, and about everlasting bonds of life-long friendships being formed. These are great things that don’t simply “happen to us”, but are things that we deliberately go out of our way to do for each other.
We are blessed to be where we are right now, in the middle of rural NH. I think back to wonderful stories written by Donald Hall, in String Too Short to be Saved. He described summers he spent driving a horse-drawn hay wagon and tramping in the woods around his grandfather Wesley Wells’ farm near Ragged Mountain, almost a century ago. Many things are different today than they were in Hall’s youth, but most of the important things haven’t changed. Whether our roots here go back generations, or whether the winds of fortune carried us to alight here just recently as newcomers, we are so fortunate to find ourselves in the midst of a caring community, surrounded by natural beauty and resources, and importantly, living at some distance from the first shock wave of the pandemic. Nevertheless, we know change is coming. We have been granted time to contemplate our next move together.
As one looks at how societies have changed over time, one sees long periods of slow, evolutionary change that altered little, interspersed with short, intense disruptions that caused major upheavals. Looking at it optimistically, those upheavals are opportunities for people to re-think what “leading the good life” means to them, and gives them a chance to make different choices about how they choose to live. We are at just the beginning of such an upheaval. There will be no going back - the future will be different from the past, as always.
The key to survival and success in such a fluid situation, if one has been granted time to think it over, is to cooly assess how the worst might come about, and then devise a plan to avoid that. Then with some clever re-thinking of what is most important to us, we might even discover a “new normal” that puts us in a better situation than our “old normal”. Passively resisting the change will not lead to the best outcome, nor will a refusal to acknowledge the existence of new risks.
While my family and I search for our own “new normal”, we discovered that being active and constructive is an excellent way of coping.
“Staying at home” has a dreary, shut-in ring to it, but “being at home” sounds as inviting as a month of Sundays. While we were “being at home”, we baked cookies and stitched masks for the hospital and an old folks home. We took our dog for walks that were as long as the old boy hoped they would be. We worked in the yard and enjoyed the emerging daffodils, and on the rainy days we repainted a room for a fresh look.
Slowing down to watch the natural world transition into spring has been more refreshing than any new coat of paint. I’m hopeful about reports that worldwide, the atmosphere and wildlife have already shown signs of recovering, as worldwide pollution has declined in the past months. Can we imagine a “new normal” that finds new ways of making the things we need, growing our food and transporting it, buying less “stuff” that gets thrown away after one use, and doing more work from home, so that the health of our world improves?
Most of all, I hope we can all find good ways to cope, asking others for help when we need it, and offering to help others as we can. You can start very simply by merging your grocery lists with say two neighbors, and taking turns with them to do one weekly shopping trip. That way, each of you ventures out in public only once every three weeks, you save fuel driving one car instead of three to the store, and you reduce the risk to the grocery workers by reducing the number of people they come in contact with.
I’m sure that many readers will have their own great ideas to share about how we can help each other, and how we can discover a safe, healthy and uplifting “new normal” together!
Ken Wells' Report from Concord March 15, 2020
The first two weeks of March provided ample reminders that while our state government is charged with important duties and responsibilities to the public, the “politicking” involved in getting the job done can be petty, cutthroat and infuriating.
During the current session, the House heard 951 House bills. Each bill gets an introduction and public hearing before one of the 24 House committees, in which any member of the public, agency employee or paid lobbyist can express their views in public testimony. For about three weeks in February I filled in as the Science, Technology and Energy Committee’s clerk, while the regular clerk took a three week trip to Central America on a cruise ship. (Alarming! What we know now about COVID19 was not known then; it was even being proclaimed a “hoax” by some.) Back in school I learned to take excellent, nearly verbatim handwritten notes, but I’m a terrible typist. Each hearing day we heard about five bills. The notes for one particularly long bill ran 26 pages long. It took me a long time to type up and submit every bill to our committee assistant for the record, but it’s important to provide an accurate written record of the testimony on each bill. If the bill should be challenged, even years later in the courts, the judges will want to look back at these notes for more details to clarify the “legislative intent” of the bill.
A week or so after the hearing there is a second, deliberative committee “work session” on every bill. This is a slightly less formal exchange between members of the committee expressing their positions on the bill. Sometimes a committee member will suggest an amendment, which then needs to be polished by one of the state’s lawyers into proper “official” legal language. The discussions are not truly conversations; every comment needs to be directed to the Chairman, not to another member, just like we do at Town Meeting. Nevertheless, the exchanges can be pretty heated and ideological differences flare. For example, “should we update the radiation monitoring in the seacoast area, to try to get data to identify the causes of three clusters of multiple, rare childhood leukemia cases?” Or, should we “trust the professionalism of the nuclear power plant and not unnecessarily increase the plant’s costs, which they will simply pass onto ratepayers”? Such arguments can go on for more than an hour, without compromise. The power plant’s spokesperson was present, but since this is no longer a hearing but a work session, he is not to speak unless he is asked a question by the chairman.
The third meeting for a bill is the committee’s “executive session” on that bill. There may be a final polished amendment presented and explained to the committee. Eventually a motion will be made by a member on whether to pass, amend, kill the bill, or send it to further study. (The member who makes the winning motion is also volunteering for the chore of writing the committee’s Majority Report. Someone on the other side of the vote has the option of writing a Minority Report.) At the end, the committee members vote on the bill one-by-one in a roll call by the clerk (my job), who records each vote, tallies the outcome and adds it to the official record. There can be several votes on a difficult bill - if the initial motion fails, another member might make a different motion, such as “interim study”, which essentially sends the bill into dignified obscurity. Some of the bills due to their complexity or expense are then sent to a second committee (such as Finance) for a second round of this whole process.
It took all of January and February to get all 951 bills through committee, and then they are to be voted by the full House in the very impressive Representatives Hall. I wrote five bills this session (and co-wrote a sixth) and they met a variety of fates. The Commerce committee unanimously recommended killing my HB1184, which would have given more guidance to entrepreneurs navigating the various state permitting processes, because they judged that adequate guidance already exists. (Ouch.) Because there was no dissent among the committee, they placed it on the so-called “consent calendar” as ITL. (“Inexpedient to Legislate”) For bills on Consent, the full House makes a single vote to accept the committees’ recommendations without debate. Another one of my bills, HB1185, proposes a industry-supported youth apprenticeship program, modeled on the system used so successfully in Germany. That bill has strong bipartisan support and also went on Consent, because it was unanimously passed 17-0 by the committee. (Yay!) My other bills have had more complicated histories I won’t explain now, but they are all still alive and will be heard by the Senate next. The sixth bill is “on the table” which is like being on the bench on a sports team; it could theoretically be brought back into the game by majority vote.
Then in February the full House began to take up the bills that were out of committee. It took several weeks to churn through them all. The bills on Consent are passed dozens at a time in a voice vote, which takes only about 30 seconds. The more contentious bills are debated, with the Minority view presented first, followed by a speech by the Majority view. Since I wrote a number of my committee’s Majority Reports last year, I have had the opportunity to deliver my short speeches “at the well”, as the pulpit-like podium is known. Now that the novelty has worn off, I’ve become a lot more confident and discovered that it’s not too different from speaking to one of my classes when I was a teacher (except my students were more attentive and better behaved!)
Then, the political shenanigans started: About this time last year, the Speaker of the House announced that all State House legislators and staff would be required to attend a training session on sexual harassment in the workplace. Fine idea. In my former job as a teacher, all school employees were required to do similar training, to protect both themselves, their co-workers and the reputation of the institution. I don’t recall that anyone in school objected very much to that, expecting they would certainly lose their jobs if they did not comply. Representatives had a whole year to complete the training and those that didn’t go to the first two well-attended one-hour lectures were reminded in increasingly demanding ways to attend. (If you have any experience with bill collectors, you have a good idea of the escalation I’m describing.) In spite of that, nine members refused to attend the sexual harassment training sessions for a whole year.
So, the Speaker issued reprimands to each of these people, to be voted on by the full House after they had a chance to explain themselves. One had a plausible excuse the House accepted (he had certified completion of such a training at his other job). Another accepted responsibility without complaint. But the others were loudly and insultingly defiant. The House voted to reprimand them.
The following full House session was just two days before the deadline: any bills not passed by the end of the March 12 session would be dead. Many of those bills contain essential legislation, vital to somebody or everybody in the state. Those reprimanded, aided by their allies, began to employ delaying tactics, much like filibustering in the US Congress. We started at 9am on both days, but after a day and a half of session, at noon of March 12 only 35 bills had been voted on, including the bills on the Consent Calendar, and 151 remained.
Bills come up alphabetically according to the name of the committee recommending them, so Science, Tech & Energy bills are third from the end, just in front of Transportation and Ways & Means. (Ways & Means is your Rep. David Karrick’s committee, which has the important job of finding revenue for all state functions.)
Word filtered through back channels that if the House voted to lift the reprimands, the delaying tactics would stop.
Many representatives were furious at this attempt at what felt like blackmail. Most resolved they would stand fast and get the People’s work, the work of the House, finished no matter what. Some feared that if too many reps got tired and left, or if the reprimanded faction walked out, the quorum would be lost and all legislative action would have to simply stop. The quorum is the minimum number in attendance to legally conduct business, or 268 members. As we took our seats, some were surprised when the Speaker announced that in order to maintain a quorum, he was locking us in! What? I suddenly recalled that more than a year ago, after I was sworn in I received an official summons in the mail, requiring my presence in the House under pain of…I forget what, because it seemed so unlikely. Then we heard that the State Police were in the building. Wow, this was no fooling around!
We pushed on, and the delays continued. Six o’clock went by, only a few bills were finished, the delays continued. Nine-thirty, and I broke out my supply of chocolate covered espresso beans and passed them around to my sleepy neighbors. It was looking grim.
At midnight we all took a short break to snack on apples, power bars and water provided to everyone by the staffers. We observed that COVID19 cases are increasing every day, so suspending the House deadline and reconvening to finish the work at a later date would be increasingly dangerous. In the mean time, 400 people or so, many over 80 years old, were staying up all night to listen to arguments in a crowded room. Was there any way this could get worse? The mood began to shift from rigid opposition to the camaraderie of facing hardship together. A bit weird, but cool.
Back in our seats, someone made that proposal that we suspend the rules and reconvene at a later date to finish our work. That motion was soundly defeated - just push on! Around 2am, somebody on the other side proposed we limit debate to three minutes on each side, and it passed by a loud voice vote.
Weeks before, at the executive sessions, others on my committee had volunteered to write lengthy floor speeches for all our bill’s debates before the full House. (I had been clerk for three weeks, so I was kind of tired of writing stuff and didn’t ask for one of those!) Instead, I volunteered to offer several of the short and stuffily formal “parliamentary inquiries” or “P.I.’s”, which contain a short outline of a bill’s main points, presented as a question: “Mr Speaker, if I know that this bill …[does this, and that and the other good thing]…then would I not push the green button to accept the committee’s recommendation to pass this bill?”
With the clock running out and twelve bills in our committee, my committee chairman asked me if I could give the P.I.’s in place of the floor speeches. I scribbled and edited my notes on about six bills, to be as succinct as possible. For each of several bills, I made the pitch and the bills passed, one after another. The last one was an especially contested bill (about the radiation detectors I mentioned above) and whaddayaknow, the power plant’s spokesperson is sitting up in the gallery, at three in the morning! I got fired up, gave the pitch in a coach’s “down by six at half-time” pep-talk style. (I had a good deal of practice at that - it’s a situation my football team found itself in many times when I was a coach, but we always finished the season with more wins than losses.) When I was done speaking, the House applauded (an unusual breech of decorum). Perhaps because the liked what I said, or was it because we were that much closer to being done? The vote was counted, and the bill passed 160-128.
The last Ways & Means bill passed a bit later, and the House adjourned around four in the morning. A Republican colleague with whom I have worked closely on the bipartisan apprenticeship bill found me on the way out and wanted to chat. He was really excited about having been in an absolutely epic session of the NH House, the likes of which nobody could remember! It was a nice feeling of camaraderie and resolution. The People’s work was finished, at least for the time being.
The next day, my colleague Kermit Williams shared his thoughts:
“I was reminded last night of Shakespeare’s play Henry V, where Henry tells his troops on the eve of the battle of Agincourt, in part;
“And gentlemen in England now a-bed
Shall think themselves accurs'd they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin's day.”
Last night was our Saint Crispin’s day, and it will remembered by all of us forever. And future reps who were a-bed in New Hampshire will wish they had been there, because last night will be legendary!”
Ken Wells represents Andover, Danbury and Salisbury in the New Hampshire House of Representatives.