By Christian Wade | The Center Square
Gov. Chris Sununu is being urged to oppose a decision by the New Hampshire Public Utilities Commission to defund the state’s energy efficiency plan.
Two weeks ago, the commission voted to reject a three-year energy efficiency plan and slashed funding for energy efficiency programs over the next two years, in a move aimed at providing relief to energy consumers who help fund the program.
But a group of Democratic lawmakers wrote to Sununu calling on him to “take a stand against this ill-fated decision” by state regulators to support the state’s clean energy goals.
The lawmakers said the PUC’s rejection threatens to “undo a decade’s worth of critical work” and suggested the move will have negative implications for the state’s economy.
“Businesses who have invested significant amounts of money into energy efficient equipment, hiring additional staff, and training existing staff, could now be facing the decision of whether or not to lay off employees and sell off capital investments in order to comply with this dramatic change,” they wrote in the letter, signed by Sen. David Watters, D-Dover, and several other Democrats. “Utility companies, who have been reliant on incentives from the state to increase energy efficiency programs, must now rethink their business models.”
Meanwhile, the nonprofit group Clean Energy New Hampshire said it is planning to file a lawsuit against the commission to block its decision to defund the program.
Several utilities are also expected to file challenges to the PUC’s decision before a Dec. 15 deadline to submit revised energy efficiency plans.
The NHSaves program provides rebates and other incentives to homeowners and businesses to install energy-efficient heating and cooling systems in hopes of reducing the use of natural gas, heating oil and other fossil fuels. The program is funded by a surcharge on utility bills.
The proposal rejected by state utility regulators would have led to higher residential and commercial utility bills used to fund efficiency surcharges applied to electric bills.
Currently, the average household pays about $40 a year through a so-called system benefits charge tacked onto utility bills. The plan had called for increasing that to $70 a year.
How much individual consumers are charged varies by utility and whether they are residential, commercial or industrial customers.
Eversource’s energy efficiency program, for example, charges 0.00651 cents per-kilowatt hour for residential and 0.01029 cents per kilowatt-hour for commercial customers, according to state energy data. Liberty charges 0.00568 cents per kilowatt hour for residential and 0.00561 cents per kilowatt-hour for commercial customers.
The fees drum up tens of millions of dollars a year, which helps pay for home efficiency audits and other programs to reduce consumption and lower utility bills.
The order issued by the PUC would cut the average monthly surcharge in half – to about $1.80 a month by 2023. That would mean the average household paying about $20 a year.
But Democrats and environmental groups say the rejection of the original plan is “troubling” and will ultimately result in higher electric bills because energy efficiency reduces consumption.
In the letter, they wrote that lowering electric rates “is undoubtedly a bipartisan priority” and acknowledged that electricity rates have risen by 60% this winter but said energy efficiency programs “are the way out of devastatingly high costs to ratepayers.”
“They create long term financial relief, reduce our energy usage, and set New Hampshire up for long term economic success,” the lawmakers wrote.