Our Turn: Sununu’s veto pen blocks clean energy future

Published: 9/16/2019 7:00:25 AM

Gov. Chris Sununu recently signed a proclamation recognizing Clean Energy Week, which runs from Sept. 23-27. Unfortunately, when it comes to Sununu signatures more often than not this summer, the governor has used his red pen to veto bipartisan initiatives that would have actually invested in energy efficiency, expanded clean energy opportunities and lowered our high energy costs in the state.

Currently, New Hampshire rates 21st in the country for energy efficiency efforts and last in New England. We must do better – for the sake of our planet and for our wallets.

Expanding renewable energy opportunities in our state is fundamental to curtailing the impact of climate change and curbing our energy costs. That is why it is so deeply disappointing that Gov. Sununu vetoed eight clean energy bills this summer – all of which had passed with bipartisan support out of the Senate and the House. Fortunately, my fellow lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have another opportunity to do the right thing by voting to override those vetoes when the Legislature reconvenes this week.

In the state Senate alone, we have five clean energy vetoes to take up – a package that, if passed by the governor, would have put New Hampshire in a position to lead on renewable energy and climate action.

If passed, Senate Bill 72 would have eliminated a barrier to the growth of the solar energy market used by the big utilities to their benefit. Unfortunately, Gov. Sununu sided with the big utilities at the expense of ratepayers and clean energy when he vetoed this bill.

SB 168, another important energy bill blocked by Gov. Sununu’s veto, would have significantly increased investments in our solar industry. Right now, New Hampshire is at a competitive disadvantage because surrounding states are outpacing our renewable energy development. This bill would have raised our target for solar energy, under New Hampshire’s Renewable Portfolio Standard, by 2025 to 5.4% compared to the current miniscule 0.7% goal – the equivalent of taking 200,000 cars off the road in reduced emissions. Such an increase would not only have advanced our efforts to combat climate change and protect public health, but it also would significantly advance the opportunity for good jobs in the solar industry – potentially one of the fastest growing industries in the state.

The governor also vetoed SB 205, another important clean energy bill that would return control of energy efficiency programs to the Public Utilities Commission by instituting a small “systems benefit charge” on everyone’s electric bills that funds energy efficiency programs available to ratepayers, including programs for low-income households.

SB 275, vetoed by Gov. Sununu, would have provided for the long-range planning vision needed for the state to transition to alternative fuel vehicles, cutting emissions in New Hampshire, where passenger vehicles are the biggest source of emissions, and saving everyone money in the long term. Our state officials, including the governor, should be acting proactively to reduce emissions in the transportation sector while preserving passenger vehicle performance.

Gov. Sununu is so adamantly opposed to clean energy he even vetoed SB 167, a study commission that had the potential to reduce costs for New Hampshire ratepayers.

This week the House will take up three of their own clean energy bills that were vetoed by Gov. Sununu, including a biomass bill to protect New Hampshire jobs and New Hampshire-based renewable energy, and a bill to expand cost-effective public-private partnerships in energy efficiency, including low-income energy efficiency.

However, the most anticipated clean energy related override vote, is expected on HB 365, which would expand net metering in the Granite State.

New Hampshire’s electricity consumers, including our municipalities, commercial businesses and other large users want competitive retail options to lower their energy costs and our local property taxes. Unfortunately, current New Hampshire law limits these consumers’ ability to become more self-sufficient and energy independent.

HB 365 would break down barriers to renewable energy by increasing the size limit on customer-generators that may participate in net energy metering from 1 megawatt up to, but not including, 5 megawatts. It would increase renewable energy supplies, reduce energy costs and insulate all New Hampshire ratepayers from electric price volatility and higher transmission costs.

All these clean energy bills garnered broad support from the public, New Hampshire businesses and legislators, yet were still vetoed by Gov. Sununu, who relies on his veto pen instead of open dialogue and compromise with lawmakers. And at the same time, he has the gall to pronounce Sept. 23-27 Clean Energy Week in New Hampshire!

It is truly disturbing that Gov. Sununu is holding back New Hampshire from taking charge of its energy future. However, your elected officials still have an opportunity to do the right thing. When legislators reconvene this week to take up Sununu’s clean energy vetoes, they will have the opportunity to stand with the overwhelming majority of Granite Staters who want to expand access to renewable energy and lower energy costs, and protect our environment. It is imperative that you urge your state senators and representatives to override Gov. Sununu’s vetoes on all these bills. The health of our planet and our children simply cannot wait any longer for us to act.

(Sen. Martha Fuller Clark, a Portsmouth Democrat, serves as chair of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. Rep. Robert Backus, a Manchester Democrat, serves as chair of the House Science, Technology and Energy Committee.)

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