PUC looks to establish energy-efficiency standard

Last modified: 5/13/2015 12:47:24 AM
New Hampshire energy regulators are taking steps to establish a statewide energy-efficiency standard, a policy that advocates have said is long overdue and will help the state reduce energy use and rates.

“It’s an important step to take because it shows the state is committed to energy efficiency in the long term,” said consumer advocate Susan Chamberlin. “Energy efficiency is the least costly way of lowering rates and bills for residential customers.”

The state Public Utilities Commission announced it is beginning the process to establish an Energy Efficiency Resource Standard, which would set specific energy-saving targets that New Hampshire gas and electric utilities must meet.

As officials and lawmakers grapple with ways to reduce the region’s high electric rates, many advocates point to energy efficiency as a cheap, clean solution that can help reduce greenhouse gas emissions and keep energy dollars in the local economy.

The biggest hurdle in developing a standard, many say, is finding the funding to make the necessary investments.

“There’s so much more potential cost-effective energy efficiency in the state,” said Scott Albert, principal and region manager at GDS Associates, a consulting and engineering firm. “The cost is an issue.”

The state’s adoption of an EERS was one of many recommendations outlined in a 10-year New Hampshire energy strategy released last year by the Office of Energy and Planning and a council made up of lawmakers and officials.

The strategy referenced a 2013 report that showed New Hampshire consumers would save $195 million each year and the state would add an additional $160 million annually to its gross domestic product “if all buildings in the state were improved to the highest level of cost-effective energy efficiency.”

Most states outpace New Hampshire in the realm of energy efficiency, according to the strategy.

Twenty-four states are currently implementing energy-saving targets, according to the American Council for an Energy-Efficiency Economy. New Hampshire is the only state in New England without a formal efficiency standard.

The state runs energy-efficiency programs, known as CORE programs, but they operate without an overarching statewide goal.

The programs, established in 2002, include home weatherization, rebates for changing inefficient light bulbs and home energy audits, among other things.

The funding comes primarily from a special charge in energy rates and auction proceeds from the state’s participation in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative.

Since the money fluctuates year to year, the investments largely depend on budgetary constraints. The creation of an EERS would change that, Chamberlin said.

“Instead of taking your budget and saying how many can you do, the EERS sets how much we can do and looks at the budget necessary to do it,” she said.

But finding the money to boost the efficiency budget is the challenge, many said. It’s an area the PUC plans to examine through the process, which gas and electric utilities operating in the state will be required to be a part of.

Eversource Energy supports the concept of an EERS, spokeswoman Lauren Collins said. But the company has several concerns, including funding sources and potential effects on customers’ bills.

Unitil spokesman Alec O’Meara said the utility looks forward to being part of the process.

Many advocates said establishing a specific state energy-efficiency standard is a much-needed step in the right direction.

“The measures look invisible to most people,” said Laura Richardson, executive director of the Jordan Institute, which focuses on energy efficiency. “The results are hardly invisible. By doing some pretty comprehensive energy-efficiency work, you can have staggering savings.”



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






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