Editorial: A lackluster approach to green energy

Published: 1/9/2020 6:01:10 AM

If the renewable energy legislation Gov. Chris Sununu boasted of this week were a home security system, it would consist of one of those “This home is protected by . . .” window stickers and maybe a recording of a barking dog. A real security system, like a real state policy to transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy, would include much more.

New Hampshire lags far behind all its New England neighbors in its support for and transition to green energy. Last year, for the ninth time, Massachusetts led the nation in energy efficiency and efforts to increase the use of renewable power sources. Vermont placed second, Rhode Island third, Connecticut sixth and Maine 15th, according to the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy. New Hampshire placed 20th. Vermont now gets 12% of its electrical energy from solar power; New Hampshire, 1%.

Gov. Sununu vetoed bipartisan bills last year that would have spurred the growth of renewable energy. Instead he is supporting watered-down measures backed by his fellow Republicans that will at best lead to a minimal increase in solar power production.

“These clean energy bills are a home run for ratepayers and the environment,” the governor said. No, more like a bunt single with nobody on base.

The legislation would minimally expand net metering – the requirement that electric utilities purchase power from customers who generate more than they can use themselves – from 1 megawatt (enough to power several hundred homes) to 125% of their monthly electric consumption. The bill Sununu vetoed, however, would have permitted solar power installations that generate up to 5 megawatts of power to participate in net metering programs.

The legislation would grant municipalities a limited exemption from the 5 megawatt limit. That could lead more communities to install solar arrays, as Lebanon is in the process of doing, alone or in partnership with a private company.

But passage of the assortment of minimal impact bills comes with a risk. Lawmakers, and the public, could get the mistaken impression that the legislation adequately did what’s necessary to encourage investments in green energy. The package of bills doesn’t.

Because one bill essentially halves the rate utilities must pay for excess power sold by median-sized energy generators from eight or nine cents per kilowatt hour, the rate paid to residential power producers, to 4 or so cents, it will slow or stop investment in the development of mid-size solar installations.

The governor, like many Republicans, rightly sees the higher rates paid for renewable energy, whether solar, wind or wood-fired, as a subsidy that could someday result in higher electric rates for other users. But that’s only because, as it has historically, the rate-setting equation ignores the external costs of various forms of power generation – the carbon emissions and health effects of burning fossil fuels for example. The true value of non-polluting, renewable energy is far higher than even the most generous rates currently paid by utilities.

Legislation that recognizes that is what New Hampshire needs to join other states in the transition to clean energy.

(An earlier version of this editorial contained incorrect information about the net metering legislation supported by Gov. Sununu.)

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