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Rep. Herb Richardson and Sen. Dan Feltes: Let’s focus on local energy and jobs, lower rates



For the Monitor
Thursday, September 06, 2018

From the senior on a fixed income of Social Security in Lancaster, to the small business owner in Henniker, to the family in manufactured housing in East Concord, affording energy is often an ongoing battle. They all expect and they all deserve bipartisan compromise and problem-solving on energy.

Unfortunately, they have gotten the exact opposite from Gov. Chris Sununu. He has opposed three common-sense, bipartisan energy bills, from House Bill 559 advancing energy efficiency, to Senate Bill 365 bolstering biomass energy, to Senate Bill 446 increasing the per-project net metering cap. It is a failure to recognize that the cheapest unit of energy is the one you don’t use; it is a failure to recognize promoting local energy and local jobs is consistent with lower rates in the long run; and it is a failure to work in a constructive, bipartisan fashion on one of the most important issues facing New Hampshire.

Indeed, Gov. Sununu’s failed approach on energy is the major reason one of us recently switched political parties and became a Democrat.

We need an energy policy that focuses on local energy, lower rates, local jobs. That’s the New Hampshire way. Unfortunately, that’s not the path Gov. Sununu has embraced.

First, his promised veto of bipartisan energy efficiency legislation, HB 559, helped lead to the bill’s demise in the Republican-controlled Senate. There are more than 10,000 low-income Granite State households on a waiting list for energy efficiency and weatherization services, much-needed help to allow them to afford to heat their homes and to afford basic necessities like medicine and food. Right now, about 100 low-income households are helped each year with support from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative. Under HB 559, a bipartisan compromise, close to 400 more low-income households would be supported each year from RGGI. HB 559 was the product of years of work and compromise, it would have created about $40 million in new lifetime ratepayer savings each year; it would have directly created about 100 new full-time jobs in New Hampshire’s emerging energy sector; and it would help slash municipal energy bills, lowering property taxes for businesses and homeowners. In short, HB 559 made good fiscal and economic sense. But, Gov. Sununu killed it.

That’s even though the highest growing portion of New Hampshire’s electric bills is regional transmission costs, with our cost allocation driven largely by our share of regional electric demand, so it would only benefit New Hampshire ratepayers to advance energy efficiency as well as local, distributed generation projects. In doing so, we support ratepayers, we support property-tax payers and we support New Hampshire jobs.

But Gov. Sununu’s veto of SB 365 will close biomass plants here in New Hampshire, take offline close to 100 megawatts in local energy, hurt over 900 workers and their families, and harm our timber industry as well as sustainable/healthy forest management. Moreover, losing this local, distributed energy source will, in the end, cost New Hampshire ratepayers. That’s not to mention the economic and jobs impact, particularly in the North Country. Should Gov. Sununu’s veto be upheld, then the close to $10 million in canceled timber and logging related activity that immediately followed his veto will end up looking like nothing more than peanuts. And he did so without a plan to save people’s jobs.

In addition, Gov. Sununu’s veto of SB 446, the increase in the per-project net metering cap, would prohibit businesses and communities from using more renewable energy to cut energy costs and help local property-tax payers. This veto not only stymied tens of millions worth of valuable community projects in the pipeline all around New Hampshire (prompting mayors to speak out in near unison), it also put the brakes on New Hampshire’s booming clean tech economy, which is where the jobs of our future reside.

SB 365 and SB 446 are about local New Hampshire energy and about local New Hampshire jobs – all leading to lower rates. While we acknowledge no piece of legislation is perfect, and SB 365 and SB 446 are no exceptions, we believe we were elected to listen to everyone, not simply fossil fuel interests. Next Thursday, Sept. 13, we are hopeful the New Hampshire House and Senate will strive to do the same.

(Herb Richardson is state representative for Dalton and Lancaster. Dan Feltes is state senator for Concord, Henniker, Hopkinton, Penacook and Warner. Rep. Richardson serves on the House Science, Technology and Energy Committee, and Sen. Feltes serves on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.)