Hassan jabs Sununu at solar array dedication in their hometown

  • U.S. Sen. Maggie Hassan speaks at a dedication of a new solar array in Newfields on Friday. Paul Steinhauser / For the Monitor

For the Monitor
Published: 2/8/2019 5:24:58 PM

Sen. Maggie Hassan came home Friday to highlight her efforts to promote solar energy.

The Democratic U.S. senator and former two-term governor cut the ribbon on a new solar array at the wastewater treatment plant in Newfields, the small Seacoast-area town that Hassan and Gov. Chris Sununu each call home. Even though Sununu was absent due to an overseas trip, his veto of a net-metering bill last year was a topic of discussion.

Hassan – speaking to a group of Seacoast officials, town residents and fourth-graders from Newfields Elementary School – announced that the solar array is “going to save taxpayers thousands in energy costs per year.”

Citing climate change, Hassan estimated that the “solar energy produced here in Newfields will offset 98,000 pounds of carbon pollution, which is the same as emissions from 5,000 gallons of gasoline a year.”

The project, which was supported through New Hampshire’s renewable energy fund, was installed by ReVision Energy with no upfront costs to the town. Sununu, New Hampshire’s Republican governor, who succeeded Hassan in the Corner Office, was on a five-day trip with inventor Dean Kamen to Dubai.

The governor’s office said Sununu and Kamen were traveling at the invitation of the Crown Prince of Dubai, and that the two were expected to make an announcement about the FIRST Global robotic competition. That’s the program the Manchester-based Kamen created in 1989. It went global three years ago and now boasts 600,000 student participants in more than 100 countries.

Sununu’s office told ReVision Energy a couple of months ago when they were planning Friday’s event that the governor wouldn’t be available to attend.

Solar energy was a top issue at last year’s gubernatorial election when Sununu defeated Democratic nominee and former state senator Molly Kelly to win a second two-year term steering New Hampshire.

Last summer, Sununu vetoed a bill passed by state Senate and House – both controlled at the time by his fellow Republicans – that would have eased the sale of solar energy back to the power grid.

The bill – Senate Bill 446 –would have significantly raised the net metering cap allowing more small scale renewable energy into the grid. Net metering is a system that allows individuals and businesses to sell the surplus energy they produce with their solar panels to a public-utility power grid and offset the costs of their arrays.

Sununu, in vetoing the bill, argued that it “would cost ratepayers at least $5 to $10 million annually and is a handout to large-scale energy developers.”

Kelly repeatedly criticized Sununu for vetoing the legislation and another renewable energy bill regarding the biomass industry – which became law after the governor’s veto was overridden by the legislature. And she also repeatedly spotlighted Sununu’s acceptance of more than $50,000 in contributions from Eversource, the state’s largest utility.

Hassan just re-introduced a net metering bill on the federal level.

“I obviously was disappointed that he vetoed a bill last year that would have raised the net metering cap even more,” Hassan told the Monitor and NHPR. “You see the enthusiasm for net metering. You see the jobs that are created with solar and net metering and I think it’s really the way we are going to combat climate change and create jobs and lower costs.”

With the new legislative session underway, lawmakers are taking another stab at raising the net metering cap. House Bill 365 would raise the cap – which supporters claim would offset municipal electric costs.

The governor’s office told the Monitor on Friday that “Sununu will consider the final language of the bill, should it reach his desk.”

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