Energy in Northern New England

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action potentialOne of the economic challenges facing Northern New England is very high electricity prices.  According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, as of April 2010, residential electricity prices were the highest in New Hampshire at 16.26 cents/kWh (6th highest in the country) followed by Vermont at 15.82 cents/kWh (8th highest it the country) and in Maine at 15.51 cents/kWh (10th highest in the country).  This is more than twice as expensive as the lowest cost state in the country–Idaho at 7.88 cents/kWh.

However, this does not have to be the case.  Why?  Well, the region is famous for its old mills that take advantage of the multitude of rivers and streams that exists.  Now, micro hydro-power is on the up-swing.  For example, a quick google search turned up this company in Maine that specializes in micro hydro-power: Katahdin Energy Works. Or, if you have $129,000 burning a hole in  your pocket, you can own your very own mill in Haverhill, New Hampshire that still has its old dam still pretty much in place.

Ironically, this “back-to-future” movement may be just the ticket for helping the region to boost its economic competitiveness.  Additionally, lower energy costs would help historical preservation since heating costs are a significant downside for many folks in terms of investing in historical housing.  Lower energy costs would help equalize the playing field between older and newer homes.

Gardiner’s One Way Street

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Where to go?The Kennebec Journal, which serves central Maine, ran an interesting story today on Gardiner’s (Maine) one way street (Water Street) through downtown.  If you check out Gardiner’s picture gallery, you will see that the parked cars all face the same direction thanks to the one way flow of traffic.

As a big fan of Jane Jacobs whose “The Death and Life of Great American Cities” spells out many features of good urban design–one-way streets were not one of them.  Water street clearly needs to become a two-way street once again.  One way streets invite speeding and actually make it more dangerous for pedestrians.  While it may be a little cramped with two lanes of opposing traffic, one benefit will be to slow down traffic.  The must continue to study this important issue.

That being said, having recently been through Skowhegan, Maine . . . they a very unique traffic pattern through their downtown.  While the traffic is one-way, it functions more like a traffic circle that goes around the downtown.  Incoming traffic generally yields into traffic–except at one point which was found to be confusing and dangerous.

Overall, this “traffic circle” system seems to work for them.  It is nice that one could loop downtown over-and-over if you were looking for someone, or for parking, without having to turn around.  However, surely an odd assortment of events came together over the years to create this unique traffic pattern.  As such, it’s probably not something that could be easily duplicated elsewhere.  Nonetheless, it may be an exception to the rule against one-way streets.

Demographic Winter

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When you’ve lived in Northern New England for awhile, you begin to really notice how much older the general population is compared to other regions in the country.  As one travels closer to the Canadian border, the more pronounced the aging. 

In a nutshell, Northern New England is facing a Demographic Winter where the number of younger folks is simply insufficient to maintain current population levels.

This is bad news for towns all across the region.  Needless to say, without people it won’t be long before the town itself begins to physically deteriorate.  In fact, some towns in Maine have already dis-incorporated because of falling populations such as Centerville (2004), Madrid (2000) and Greenfield (1993).  Unfortunately, this trend is likely to accelerate in the future.

The chart below shows the trend in population growth for the Northern New England states versus the national average.  While all 3 states lag the national average, only New Hampshire comes close.  Maine and Vermont lag much farther behind.  In fact, in 2009, Maine lost population for the first time since the 1960s.

If Northern New England is going to be able to save its architectural heritage, more people must come here “from away.”  It is very unlikely that the existing population base will be able to reverse these trends by themselves.  This fact is one, of many, reasons for this website . . . more to come.

Population Growth of Northern New England States versus National Average