My Turn: New Hampshire energy programs on the chopping block

For the Monitor
Published: 11/28/2021 11:00:40 AM
Modified: 11/28/2021 11:00:12 AM

New Hampshire voters, have you any idea what your GOP-controlled Legislature and bureaucrats have been up to lately?

They have been very busy in the last few months conducting an all-out assault on energy efficiency and renewable energy programs designed to reduce energy costs for New Hampshire electric consumers and reduce our collective impacts on climate change.

On November 12th, the NH Public Utilities Commission issued an order that arguably is the most significant and divisive decision that the PUC has issued in recent memory. The order, signed by Gov. Sununu’s newly appointed PUC Chairman Dan Goldner and the departing PUC Chairwoman Dianne Martin, ignored prior decisions by the PUC supportive of New Hampshire’s 10 + year old energy efficiency program.

Oh, and let’s not forget that Dianne Martin, appointed by the governor several years ago, resigned immediately after signing the order and only two years into her six-year appointment. Convenient, huh?

The order sets New Hampshire on a penny-wise but dollar-foolish accelerating descent away from cost-effective energy efficiency. It arbitrarily reduces electric customer contributions over the next three years to the NHSaves energy efficiency program implemented by the state’s electric utilities. Electric customer contributions to the NHSaves program flow through the System Benefits Charge (SBC) added to monthly electric customer bills.

The order rejected the latest Triennial Energy Efficiency Plan (the TEEP) offering very little in the way of justification or logic. The TEEP was to go into effect in January 2021 yet the PUC waited 316 days, until November of this year to issue their order.

Doing so ensured that energy efficiency in New Hampshire would be starved for funding in 2021 and disrupted thousands of good-paying energy efficiency jobs for New Hampshire.

The order also stated that energy efficiency in New Hampshire must be market-based and not utility-sponsored. Curiously, none of the other 50 states use market-based programs to fund energy efficiency. A reckless decision.

It eliminated any performance incentives for the New Hampshire electric utilities for successful deployment of energy efficiency. Performance incentives are an appropriate way to compensate the utilities for a job well done and are reasonable in size.

Finally, the order unreasonably directs the electric utilities to propose new energy efficiency programs not solely ratepayer-funded and to do so by December 15th of this year, a near impossible task given that other parties including energy efficiency contractors, clean energy groups and key stakeholders should be at the table.

All of these radical changes to New Hampshire’s methodical and cost-effective energy efficiency programs will guarantee that New Hampshire will fall farther behind our neighboring states in deploying energy efficiency.

New Hampshire is currently ranked 18th out of the 50 states and the District of Columbia for energy efficiency by the American Council of Energy Efficient Economies (ACEEE) while the other New England States are all in the top 10% of states in deploying energy efficiency.

What does all this mean for the typical New Hampshire electric ratepayer? Here’s the deal. Although the PUC order will initially reduce electric rates by a fraction of a penny per kilowatt-hour, in the long run and more importantly, our electric bills will be higher, much higher.

This counter-intuitive outcome will be a reality without a robust energy efficiency program in New Hampshire to slow or reverse New Hampshire’s electricity use. And with our neighboring states aggressively controlling electricity use through energy efficiency, we will experience higher electric transmission rates and costs, increasingly costly and dirty (yes, dirty) natural gas fueled electricity imported from out-of-state generators.

Let’s not also forget higher costs to provide the out-of-state electricity generating capacity to meet the higher demands, all contributing to higher electricity bills. Increased electricity costs will make New Hampshire less economically competitive with our neighboring states. How can this be good news for electric ratepayers in New Hampshire?

More New Hampshire citizens who are in fuel poverty, maybe your neighbors, will be forced to live in uncomfortable, cold and energy inefficient homes and will spend more of their already stretched incomes on electricity, all at a time of rising costs of living.

Our regional environment will be further degraded from the emissions of fossil-fueled electric generators and we will not be doing our fair share of reducing carbon emissions, especially important as climate change is the existential challenge of our generation and demands action now.

In addition to this reckless decision on the part of the PUC, we see GOP legislators continue to cold-heartedly chisel away at other beneficial energy programs including proposals to exempt state and local government from participating in the Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) or even reverting to an “opt-in” program thus further weakening essential renewable energy financing and generation of clean, home-grown electricity in New Hampshire.

The success of the RPS in setting clean renewable energy in New Hampshire has and is succeeding in reducing carbon emissions and keeping hard-earned energy dollars within New Hampshire.

All of these actions to weaken clearly beneficial energy programs in New Hampshire reflect a larger and more insidious character of the GOP now dominated by the Free State Project and Libertarians. None of this is good for the citizens of New Hampshire.

Remember all of these actions by the GOP, supported and enabled by the governor, on down to legislators and unelected bureaucrats when you go to the polls in 2022.

(Joe Kwasnik is a retired National Grid environmental executive, former chairman of the New Hampshire Electric Cooperative and a founder of the NH Network for Environment, Energy and Climate. He lives in Concord.)

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