State environmental groups urge override of clean energy bill vetoes 

  • Rep. Lee Oxenham, a Plainfield Democrat, speaks at a press event urging lawmakers to overturn a string of vetoes from Gov. Chris Sununu on renewable energy bills. Ethan DeWitt / Monitor staff

Monitor staff
Published: 9/11/2019 5:51:14 PM

Morgan Browne goes by many labels, but one soars above the rest: mother. That was clear enough Wednesday, when Brown and her one-year-old took to the podium in Concord to outline the urgency of climate change. 

“This little thing is the biggest thing in my world right now, and I worry so much about her future,” Brown said, her daughter Adelaide bouncing contentedly against her shoulder. 

Coming together to improve that future is a global mandate, Brown maintained. And for environmental advocates like herself in New Hampshire, the first stop is the state legislature, she said. 

Brown was flanked by about two dozen advocates Wednesday morning who came together a week before “Veto Day” – when state lawmakers take up Gov. Chris Sununu’s vetoes – to turn up the pressure.

At the press conference, members of Mothers Out Front, a Cambridge-based effort dedicated to climate change policies, urged lawmakers to overturn a range of gubernatorial vetoes on clean energy.

“I know how easy it is to feel powerless and like there’s nothing you can do in this current political system, especially when all of your time is taken up being a mom, being a student, being a partner,” Brown said. “These vetoed energy bills, though, are something that we can have influence over.”

The group, a national movement based in Massachusetts and modeled after other mother-centered advocacy efforts, joined other stalwart environmental organizations like 350 New Hampshire and the Sierra Club of New Hampshire at the podium.

The target: four vetoes the governor issued earlier this summer related to boosting renewable energy.

Citing a need to keep energy rates low, Sununu vetoed House Bill 365, which would have increased the cap on “net metering” to allow businesses and consumers to sell more renewable energy into the electric grid at premium prices; Senate Bill 72, which would repeal a credit system allowing net metering facilities exemptions to renewable energy credit obligations; Senate Bill 168, which would increase the threshold of renewable energy in the state’s portfolio; and Senate Bill 205, which would require that systems benefits charges be used for energy efficiency programs.

Perhaps the most sweeping of those, HB 365, has the backing of at least 11 of New Hampshire’s city mayors in the past, many of whom have hydropower or solar projects that could benefit from expanded net metering.

Presently, those interested in selling renewable energy back into the electric grid are only allowed to sell up one megawatt at a time at retail rates – anything above that is paid for at the lower wholesale rate. Raising that limit to five, cities and large producers have argued, could allow them to expand renewable energy production.

But Sununu and other opponents have countered that by raising that limit, the bill would effectively force utility companies to purchase much more “green” energy at premium prices, which would then be passed down to customers in the form of higher rates. Sununu has argued that could equal hundreds of millions of dollars in costs over 20 years if renewables continue to expand.

“We should not allow our good intentions to mask a bad policy,” he said in his veto message. “We should not force our ratepayers to massively subsidize those who can afford to construct 40-acre solar farms.”

Supporters of HB 365 have rejected that reasoning, arguing that the amount of green energy projects being contemplated would not reach those levels.

And they’ve said that encouraging more homegrown renewable electricity to be sold into the grid would cut down on transmission costs currently paid by consumers for importing electricity out of state.

The Public Utilities Commission, which sets electric rates, has declined to weigh in on how much the bill might cost electricity customers, calling it “indeterminable” due to “the uncertainty associated with the bill’s impact on market behavior.”

Either way, environmental advocates said Wednesday that the bills, some of which attracted bipartisan support, would help improve New Hampshire’s renewable energy future if lawmakers overturn the vetoes.

“Many people in both parties are very concerned about this issue,” said Rep. Lee Oxenham, a Plainfield Democrat and former researcher at the National Academy of Science’s National Research Council. But, she added, “it’s going to be a tough vote.”

(Ethan DeWitt can be reached at edewitt@cmonitor.com, at (603) 369-3307, or on Twitter at @edewittNH.)




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