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N.H. lawmakers consider bills aimed at reducing electricity costs

Last modified: 1/29/2015 12:46:02 AM
Lawmakers are considering two bills aimed at lowering New Hampshire’s electricity costs by making big changes to the state’s renewable energy program, a move supporters say could derail the initiative’s benefits.

Both pieces of legislation target the state’s Renewable Portfolio Standards, established by the Legislature in 2007 as a way to reduce the state’s use of fossil fuels. The program requires utilities to purchase credits from four classes of different renewable energy sources that include solar, wind and biomass. If they don’t meet the standards, they pay into a renewable energy fund that takes that money and invests it into new renewable projects.

A bill sponsored by Rep. David Murotake, a Nashua Republican, would put new hydroelectric power into the mix, making it an eligible power source as part of the RPS. That would open the door to further imports of Canadian hydropower and help lower electric costs, he argued. “We know there are massive amounts of clean renewable energy just north of the border, so why wouldn’t we take advantage of it to keep our rates low?” he said during a hearing on the bill yesterday, but added that the bill isn’t geared specifically toward the Northern Pass project.

A separate bill, filed by Republican House Majority Leader Jack Flanagan, proposes dropping the four different classes of renewable power in favor of one single grouping, and giving half of the money generated by the renewable energy fund back to ratepayers. “What this bill tries to do is bring RPS into a more balanced approach,” he said.

Both bills faced significant pushback from environmentalists and industry officials at a hearing before the House Science, Technology and Energy Committee yesterday.

The RPS has a very small impact on rates, but its benefits are very significant, said Mike Fitzgerald of the state’s Department of Environmental Services. RPS represents about 3 to 5 percent of the energy rate in an electricity bill. The Renewable Energy Fund has invested roughly $10 million in renewable energy projects, ranging from residential solar and wind projects to commercial wood pellet boilers.

The bill could be detrimental to the state’s energy future, said Sen. Martha Fuller Clark, a Portsmouth Democrat.

“It will not aid in reducing the cost to ratepayers,” she said. “In many cases, by eliminating choices and diversity it makes us more susceptible for outside forces that we can’t control.”

(Allie Morris can be reached at 369-3307 or amorris@cmonitor.com.)


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