My Turn: Energy efficiency on two dollars a month

For the Monitor
Thursday, February 01, 2018

One of the unfortunate ideas lurking around the New Hampshire Legislature lately is a version of “freedom” insisting that government should be as limited as possible, almost irrespective of urgent problems or opportunities. Thus the true believers in this idea actively oppose a utility-run program to help people reduce their energy costs through an energy-efficiency campaign, choosing instead to dissipate the funds by handing out $2 or so per month to residents via a rebate buried in their electric bills.

The justification offered is that individuals are better at deciding how to use that $2 than the government is.

Well, of course. But it isn’t the $2 that’s being decided on but the million dollars a month that can be either scattered to the wind or applied to a valuable program. There’s not much one can do with $2 a month – buy an egg every 3 days, or choose between a cup of coffee or a donut. Or try to save up enough $2 bills to do a $4,000 energy efficiency project on one’s house around the year 2200.

Instead, if the state retains this $2 from each of, say, half a million ratepayers it will have $1 million per month, immediately allowing 3,000 such energy efficiency projects every year – or 6,000 if the program requires recipients to pay down half the cost from part of what they save in energy costs. This is a far better use of the same money, far more beneficial to New Hampshire residents. The expenditure is called investment. The result is called wealth. It is collective action accomplished through leadership.

Not only would 3,000 households every month see their heating and electricity costs drop, but every month less money would be lost to our economy – we import all our fossil fuel. Even more interesting is this: As the program continued year after year, the accumulated benefit to the economy would accelerate because the savings from past years’ retrofits keep coming.

When you consider this accelerating impact on energy imports, it is no wonder that oil interests like the Koch brothers (acting through ALEC and/or Americans for Prosperity) would want to “nip it in the bud” and aggressively promote bills such as 2012’s HB 1490 and others every session thereafter whose effect is to limit New Hampshire investment on energy efficiency. What is a wonder is why so many legislators seem to follow the suggestions that those billionaires offer.

I believe that the faux-libertarian principle of limiting government rather than addressing needs and problems amounts to dumping our responsibility to our constituents. Collective action is what good government is about, applying investment, leverage and leadership, which, frankly, we were elected to provide.

A democracy, even a representative democracy, is not a separate entity from the public. We have elections.

(John Mann of Alstead represents Cheshire District 2 in the New Hampshire House of Representatives.)