Senate again defies Sununu over raising renewable energy cap 

  • The New Hampshire Senate meets in session, Thursday, March 5, 2020. Ethan DeWitt—Ethan DeWitt

  • An example of a large scale ground-mounted solar array. Thomas Pearson

Monitor staff
Published: 3/5/2020 5:36:55 PM

The New Hampshire Senate for the second time overrode a veto by Gov. Chris Sununu on a bill to lift the ceiling on how much energy consumers can sell back to utility companies at desirable rates.

Senate Bill 159 would expand net metering in the state, which allows consumers to get credit from their power company for any energy generated by solar panels or other renewable sources on their property and sent back to the grid.

Presently, that process is capped at generators of 1 megawatt per hour; SB 159 would raise that cap to 5 megawatts, allowing significantly bigger businesses and towns to participate.

Supporters of net metering expansion say that it would encourage larger players like companies, school districts and towns to jump into renewable energy by giving them a bigger reimbursement for their investment.

But Sununu vetoed the bill in February, arguing that it would saddle utility companies with excess costs associated with buying the energy at higher rates, and the companies would pass on those costs to their customers.

The Senate voted 17-7 Thursday to override the veto, one vote more than needed. 

Sen. Dan Feltes, a Concord Democrat who has pushed for net metering expansion, celebrated the vote.

“I’m grateful that, in advance of town meeting day, we achieved a bipartisan Senate vote to override Governor Sununu’s veto of SB 159 ... this one meeting him more than halfway,” Feltes said.

Joining the 14 Democrats were Republican Sens. Jeb Bradley, of Wolfeboro; Harold French, of Franklin; and John Reagan, of Deerfield.

The veto override is the third time in three years the Legislature has clashed with Sununu over the concept.

In 2018, the governor struck down a Republican-sponsored net metering expansion bill, and the Senate overrode the veto, only to fall short of the two-thirds threshold in the House.

Then, in 2019, the governor vetoed House Bill 365, calling it a massive subsidy to large-scale solar companies, and the House came a handful of votes short of an override.

Senate Democrats believe that they could have a better chance overriding the veto in the House this time – especially after some tweaks made to narrow the eligibility of the producers in this year’s bill.

But Bradley, one of the Republicans who has pushed for a higher net metering ceiling and one of the yes votes Thursday, thinks otherwise.

“The House is likely – I think very likely – to sustain it again,” he said in an interview after the vote. Sustaining a vetoed bill means upholding it by not reaching the two-thirds threshold.

Instead, Bradley predicted that a compromise will need to be worked out between the Legislature and the governor’s office through a different bill, House Bill 1218, advanced by Canterbury Democratic Rep. Howard Moffett.

“Moffett’s bill is the opportunity that we have to finally work with the governor and get something that he can support,” Bradley said.

Medicaid to Schools bill heads to governor’s desk

The Senate also advanced a bill to Sununu’s desk Thursday that will almost certainly not be vetoed.

Senate Bill 684 is a fast-tracked bill intended to deal with a problem that sprung up on school districts this year: The loss of millions in federal Medicaid dollars after state officials tightened rules around eligible services under the Medicaid to Schools program.

Previously, the Medicaid to Schools program had allowed school districts to provide Medicaid health services to students, from counseling to speech language pathology, and receive reimbursement.

But because many of those medical professionals in schools were being licensed through the Department of Education and not a medical board, state officials worried that the schools were afoul of the federal law and that the funding could end. An emergency rule passed in summer prompted many schools to write off the money entirely to be safe, in some cases losing out on millions of dollars each.

SB 684 updates the licensing process so that school health professionals meet the standards imposed by the federal government – and all0ws schools to be paid, its backers say.

Sununu has said he will sign the bill.

(Ethan DeWitt can be reached at edewitt@cmonitor.com, 369-3307, or on Twitter at @edewittNH.)



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