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Concentration of CO2 in the Atmosphere

A History of the New Hampshire Electric Cooperative

The NHEC's first pole setting on December 4, 1939 in Lempster, NH.

The NHEC’s first pole setting on December 4, 1939 in Lempster, NH.

By George Harvey

In the 1930s, getting electricity to a farm was expensive. It cost $2000 to $3000 per mile to bring power from the nearest utility pole to a farm, and very few people could afford it. Unsurprisingly, most of the farmers in this country did not have electric service. The Rural Electrification Agency (REA) was set up to change that in 1935.

With some help from the Grange, the New Hampshire Electric Cooperative (NHEC) was formed in 1939. It signed on members very quickly; 1329 were signed on in the first eight months alone. Part of this was due to the fact that the NHEC offered its members deals that were hard to pass up. It charged $2 to wire a house, though we might well remember that wiring was pretty simple in those days. Other deals included offers of 95% financing with 6% interest, paid back on the electric bill.

(As a child, I lived in a house in New Hampshire that got its electricity through the REA and still had its original wiring. The kitchen had two outlets and an overhead light on a pull chain. The dining room had two outlets. The other rooms had one each, except for two rooms that had none at all. Our appliances were a refrigerator, a washer, and a radio. It was simple, but I remember people talking about how thankful they were for the safety of electricity, compared to the open flames of kerosene lamps or candles.)

NHEC solar-powered headquarters campus in Plymouth. Wind turbines of the Groton Wind Farm, not owned by NHEC, are in the background.

NHEC’s headquarters campus in Plymouth. Wind turbines of the Groton Wind Farm, not owned by NHEC, are in the background.

Seth Wheeler, of NHEC, had some interesting points about the rural electrification in New Hampshire. One thing he mentioned is that there were thousands of farms in the state that had been abandoned, and electricity made it possible for people to move back to them and reestablish their lives in them.

In time, the NHEC grew to have 80,000 members in 116 towns and cities. As it grew, it responded to the changing demands of the times. One important turning point was in 1973, when the country suddenly found it was out of gas and short of home heating oil. The NHEC responded with a number of measures that sound surprisingly forward-looking.

The NHEC introduced weatherization and other efficiencies. It provided energy audits, complete with blower door tests. If the member acted on the results, the cost of the audit could be waived.

In the 1980s, the NHEC started to get interested in renewable power. It bought power from the Tug Mountain Wind Farm in 1984, with ten turbines of 60 kilowatts each. This was the fifth wind farm installed in New England and somewhat experimental. The output of the turbines was disappointing, mainly because winds at the site were less powerful than expected, so the turbines were taken down and sold in 1988. It was, however, a start.

The 1990s saw energy audits taken to a new level. They went beyond measuring heat loss and the quality of air sealing to examine the performance of individual appliances. Today, NHEC offers a program that allows members to turn in an old refrigerator or freezer and get $30 for it. The program contractor even provides free pick-up!

Help was not only with energy audits, but with finding and applying for incentives. Just as it had done with energy audits, the scope of assistance to members was not limited to electricity, but to other forms of energy and efficiency. For example, there has long been help for conversions to solar thermal water heating. In fact, there is help to be had for members who want to do just about any efficiency or renewable energy improvement that can operate on a practical level. A special fund was set up just for this purpose in 2007, and it has been run since.

The programs that the NHEC has today are numerous. Whether a heat pump is needed or a member wants to install a solar photovoltaic system, there is likely to be something just for the purpose. This is true for both residential and commercial accounts. Truly, there are too many to list here, with nine residential programs and eight business programs. We highly recommend that Co-op members who can use them find out by going to the NHEC website and following at the “Co-op Energy Solutions” link. The website is www.NHEC.com.

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