State Senate candidates weigh in on rising electricity costs, long-term energy strategy for New Hampshire

Last modified: 10/19/2014 11:27:04 PM
By the start of the next legislative session in January, energy rates will nearly double for more than 100,000 New Hampshire residents.

Also by that time, a new state senator will be sitting in the chair to represent Concord and its surrounding towns.

During recent interviews with the Monitor, the two candidates for state Senate District 15 outlined sharply different approaches to rising energy costs in New Hampshire. The district includes Concord, Henniker, Hopkinton and Warner; 20-year state Sen. Sylvia Larsen of Concord announced her retirement from that seat earlier this year.

Concord attorney Dan Feltes, a Democrat, spoke with the experience of eight years of work on energy efficiency programs and utility law with New Hampshire Legal Assistance. Feltes, 35, also has a master’s degree in public policy, with a focus on economics and energy regulation.

“At the state Senate level, I think we can make enhancements consistent with the Office of Energy and Planning’s recently released 10-year energy strategy. . . . Some of those ideas include increased investments in distributed generation, increased energy efficiency investments and some local renewable energy enhancements,” Feltes said.

“One thing we can’t do is throw up our hands,” he added.

Warner real estate broker Lydia Harman, a Republican, stressed her desire to turn first to forums with the residents of her district for ideas and solutions.

In the meantime, Harman, 43, suggested just bundling up.

“I guess the short-term solution is, we all have to put on our sweaters and winterize our homes as best we can,” Harman said. “I know that’s what we do in our home.”

Short-term solutions

Three of four major utilities in New Hampshire have announced increases to their electric rates this winter. On Nov. 1, the electric rate for Liberty Utilities will jump nearly 50 percent. For roughly 43,000 customers in New Hampshire, that increase will add about $50 to the average customer’s electric bill.

On Dec. 1, Unitil’s rates will follow suit. The bill for the utility’s average customer will increase by an estimated $42; Unitil has roughly 75,000 customers in the state.

The average customer of the New Hampshire Electric Co-op will experience an increase of between $12 and $50 on the monthly bill. Public Service of New Hampshire, the state’s largest utility, has not yet officially filed for a rate change with the Public Utilities Commission.

In the meantime, natural gas prices are also expected to rise, though the U.S. Energy Information Administration has predicted residents in the Northeast won’t pay as much to heat their homes this year as they did last year.

To address immediate concerns of residents who will struggle to pay their bills this winter, Harman suggested helping her constituents learn how to winterize their homes.

“Just continuing to help families insulate their homes with education forums. . . . There are those forums in the community now, but I’d love to see more discussion about it, more collaboration,” Harman said.

She also suggested investing in alternative forms of energy sooner rather than later.

“There are families who are looking at the option of, ‘Should I do solar now versus waiting?’ ” she said. “I think, yes, now is better.”

Feltes noted the state relies on the federal government for its fuel assistance program, but those dollars are being rolled back when they are still needed in New Hampshire. He suggested a state supplemental fuel assistance program, similar to state programs for electrical assistance or natural gas discounts. For families who heat their homes with other resources like propane, he said that money could help relieve the burden of their rising bills.

“Could that be created?” he said. “Of course. It would require money.”

But to Feltes, relieving the burden rising energy costs place on New Hampshire residents is “a moral obligation.”

“I think this is one of the biggest problems the state faces,” he said

Long-term problems

Both candidates agreed with the need to diversify New Hampshire’s sources of energy and encourage alternative energy sources. If elected, Feltes said he would also work in the state Senate to send more dollars to energy efficiency programs like those run by NH Saves. To do so, he wants to increase the amount of money dedicated to those programs through New Hampshire’s participation in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a cap-and-trade program.

“When you’re struggling by on a fixed income, you can’t set aside a few thousand dollars for a new boiler that’s highly efficient, or a new refrigerator,” Feltes said.

Feltes also suggested working with private banks to secure loans for businesses to improve their energy efficiency. The business could then pay back the loan with the money saved on its energy bills, he said.

“It’s complicated and it doesn’t lend itself to an easy answer, but one answer I won’t accept is not doing anything,” Feltes said.

As her first priority in the state Senate, Harman has said she would immediately form a volunteer commission of District 15 residents for public input. Those people, she said, could in turn help generate ideas to solve problems of rising energy costs in new Hampshire.

“I want to bring us together,” Harman said. “I want to have people generate their ideas so we can have more cost-effective solar, so we can generate opportunities for wind.

“The conversations have not been free and easy for a long time, and that has really stagnated our state,” she added.

Young people will be especially important to those talks, Harman said.

“It would be great to look at innovation and inventions that young people have, people who are in the industry now,” Harman said. “I’d love to see something such as an invention forum take place on a regular basis here in the Granite State, because young people have great ideas.”

Harman and Feltes will participate in a breakfast forum Wednesday at the Holiday Inn in Concord. Hosted by the Greater Concord Chamber of Commerce, the forum will begin at 7:30 a.m. To RSVP or find more information, visit concordnhchamber.com.

Where they stand

Here’s how state Senate candidates Dan Feltes and Lydia Harman stand on other issues. Feltes, a 35-year-old Democrat, lives in Concord and worked for New Hampshire Legal Assistance for the past eight years. Harman, a 43-year-old Republican, is a lifelong resident of the capital region and works as a real estate broker in Warner.

Here are some of the positions they have taken on important issues thus far in the election:

Gambling

Feltes: Cautious but open. “New Hampshire has a revenue problem, not a spending problem. I don’t think it would be fiscally prudent to automatically take off the table any potential revenue options, and that would include expanded gambling.”

Harman: Against, in part because she doesn’t believe it will bring a long-term source of revenue into the state. She’s also worried about its impact on tourism in New Hampshire. “What about the fact that people come to New Hampshire because of the beauty of the outdoors? . . . Do we really want to enclose people in a windowless cave and tell them that they’re enjoying the tourism here in New Hampshire? I don’t think so.”

Minimum wage

Feltes: For a state minimum wage, rather than relying on the federal minimum wage of $7.25. Before the primary election, Feltes suggested $10.10 as a starting point in negotiations.

Harman: “People are really struggling, and I think that we do need to take a look at a living wage. I think one of the ways in which we can access better wages for people is to make sure that we have a skilled workforce that is specific to the needs of the business community.”

Death penalty repeal

Feltes: For.

Harman: For.

Feltes on predictions Republicans will control the New Hampshire Senate

“I think the problems we face are bipartisan problems, and New Hampshire works best when we work together. That’s what I’ve done for the last eight years as a Legal Assistance Attorney, is work with both Democrats and Republicans to get things done. It’s about having an open mind.”

Harman on the Free State Project

The Free State Project has listed Harman as a real estate broker who is happy to help members move to New Hampshire. This week, Granite State Progress dubbed Harman an “honorary” member. In addition to her real estate work, Granite State Project pointed to her speaking engagements at two Free State Project events in 2008 and 2009. She also hosted a program called “Capitol Access” on Concord cable TV with a member of the Free State Project.

But Harman said she doesn’t know much about the project and doesn’t align herself with it.

“I’m not really involved with that movement,” she said.

Payments due to New Hampshire under the Merrimack Valley Flood Control Compact

Feltes: “I do believe that some of these local, town-by-town issues need to try to be addressed in the state budget process.”

Harman: “I would call the debt collectors and ask them how they collect debts. And then I would bring the decision makers to the table with some information and advice, and see what we can do.”

Legalization of marijuana

Feltes: Supportive of medical marijuana and decriminalization, and he would not immediately take legalization off the table. “I think at this point, it’s important to study what’s going on in Colorado and Washington (state) and to figure out whether or not we could have a New Hampshire-based solution to consider. . . . I think we’re a ways away from that.”

Harman: “I think Colorado is doing a great job, and I would love to study it more. . . . If you (can) capitalize on what people are doing anyway, you may as well. Here in the state, we need to think of revenue options and see how we can implement it.”



(Megan Doyle can be reached at 369-3321, mdoyle@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @megan_e_doyle.)




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