Feltes releases clean energy plan as clashes with Volinsky increase

Monitor staff
Published: 8/6/2020 5:00:06 PM

Gubernatorial candidate Dan Feltes hopes to raise New Hampshire’s cap on net metering solar benefits, build up offshore wind off the coast, and wean the state toward a goal of 100% non-fossil fuel energy by 2050.

Those were among a number of promises outlined in the state senator’s clean energy plan, released Thursday about a month ahead of the Sept. 8 primary. In Feltes’s telling, they form a roadmap for an energy policy that gradually merges New Hampshire’s present energy picture with its future.

“Combating the existential threat of climate change is both a necessity and an opportunity,” Feltes said. “(Gov. Chris) Sununu is stuck in the past on energy, and his 12 clean energy vetoes and his rhetoric show it.”

But in making his clean energy pitch, Feltes is vying to make up lost ground in the primary race. His Democratic opponent Andru Volinsky has already been endorsed by several major environmental groups this campaign.

In April, the New Hampshire Sierra Club endorsed Volinsky, a Concord Executive Councilor, over Feltes; in July the environmental advocacy group 350 Action chose Volinsky as well.

Both cited Volinsky’s opposition to the proposed Granite Bridge pipeline, an effort by Liberty Utilities to create a 27-mile pipeline in southern New Hampshire to import natural gas obtained through fracking. While Volinsky opposed the pipeline, Feltes did not speak against it. The pipeline was scrapped in late July in favor of a different contract with an existing pipeline: Concord Lateral.

Volinsky has also been endorsed by other progressive climate groups, such as New Hampshire Youth Movement, New Hampshire Climate Strike, the Sunrise Movement, and New Hampshire Rights and Democracy.

Feltes, meanwhile, has the backing of renewable energy advocates like Melissa Birchard, Gary Hirshberg and Dan Weeks.

Volinsky argues his proposed efforts are bolder, and that his track record representing two towns in opposition to the Northern Pass transmission project in the state Supreme Court – as well as on the Executive Council – bolsters his credibility.

“It’s kind of hard to find his plan credible when it doesn’t mention his support for fracking,” Volinsky said of Feltes’s plan in an interview Thursday.

But on Thursday, Feltes argued he was the candidate with the most realistic plan. And he said his years in the Senate crafting legislation to bring about clean energy policies gave him a framework.

“It’s one thing to talk about things, another thing to actually do them,” he said on the press call. “And that’s what we’ve been doing at the State House, and that’s what we’re proposing right here.”

Feltes’s seven-page document, released to reporters over a telephone conference call, laid out familiar Democratic priorities over recent years. Many of the initiatives have been the subject of legislation passed by the Democratic Legislature since 2019; many of those bills have been since vetoed by Republican Gov. Chris Sununu.

Feltes’s proposal to raise the cap on net metering has been vetoed twice by Sununu, for instance. That effort would raise the current size limit on renewable energy generators that can participate in net metering from one-megawatt per hour to five-megawatt generators.

Raising that limit would allow more businesses and homeowners to effectively sell back the excess solar, wind or hydro energy they produce on their property back into the power grid at competitive rates, allowing them to offset their power bill with credits. The current cap limits that potential to smaller generators.

But Sununu has cited a potential for increased costs passed on to ratepayers by utility companies, and says the expansion would give an unfair advantage to companies large enough to afford bigger generators.

Likewise, on the state’s renewable portfolio standards, Sununu has vetoed attempts to increase New Hampshire’s commitments to non-fossil-fuel sources and set a more ambitious target toward clean energy use. Feltes’s plan includes both.

Feltes’s plan would also seek to renovate state-owned buildings to bring them to “net zero” carbon emissions; create a public-private “green bank” to help low-income residents finance solar panels and other measures; expand electric vehicle charging stations and move forward on a passenger rail project into New Hampshire.

For his part, Volinsky has endorsed a three-part plan. The first is to “stop bad things,” for instance, by opposing gas pipelines that bring in fracked gas to the state.

The second, he says, is a New England wide “Green New Deal.” That means cooperation on offshore wind development, funding for solar projects, a commuter rail project, and other areas.

And it means joining the Granite State into the U.S. Climate Alliance, a bipartisan group of mostly coastal and northern states that seeks to align climate policies and priorities, Volinsky said. New Hampshire is the only non-member in New England.

Finally, the executive councilor would convert the existing Office for Strategic Initiatives into a climate, energy and environment-based agency, and direct it to work to bring New Hampshire’s state buildings into “net zero” status by 2030.

Central to the disagreement between Volinsky and Feltes on clean energy is the role of natural gas. Volinsky wants to transition the state off of it quickly, by stopping new pipelines and focusing on renewable energies. Feltes argues it’s important to allow Granite Staters to maintain natural gas while the state tries to transition.

“What you’ll see is a reflection of the current reality” said Feltes. “The vast majority of Granite Staters heat their homes with natural gas or home heating oil, and we need to provide a meaningful opportunity for everyone to transition to the clean energy economy.”

Speaking Thursday, Volinsky strongly disagreed.

“Dan’s position is Liberty Utility’s position,” he said, referring to one of the state’s utility companies, which has donated to Feltes’s and Sununu’s campaigns in the past. “If we have 8 or 10 years by scientific reckoning to bend the curve on carbon, we should not be committing to a 20-year time frame reliant on fracked gas during that time period. ... We need to move away from fracked gas as quickly as we can. Not commit additional resources to it. There are better ways to deal with working-class folks who have trouble paying their utility bills than giving them fracked gas that causes Seabrook and Hampton beach to be overrun with the king tides.”

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