Commentary

Commentary: New Hampshire should save NHSaves

December 16, 2021 5:43 am
A ring of natural gas flame

This winter, Granite Staters are facing some of the highest energy costs in recent memory, due in large part to surging global natural gas prices. (Photo illustration by Christopher Furlong | Getty Images)

As president of Liberty, a public utility serving nearly 150,000 gas and electric customers in communities  across New Hampshire, I was surprised and disappointed to see an order from the New Hampshire Public Utilities Commission on Nov. 12 that drastically curtailed New Hampshire’s energy efficiency program, known as NHSaves. We estimate the program cuts in 2022 and 2023 alone will increase energy costs for Liberty customers by at least $30 million.  

It’s my job to make sure the families and businesses Liberty serves have safe, reliable, and affordable energy to stay warm in the winter, cook their meals, and power their lives. Any time these basic priorities are put at risk, I believe our customers deserve an explanation. That’s why I’m writing today: because the decision to cut NHSaves is going to make energy less affordable for New Hampshire families and businesses unless our state’s leaders can come together to create a solution.  

Liberty has formally asked the PUC to suspend this decision, but that request was denied. We are  working with partners across the energy industry and within the communities we serve to get energy efficiency back on track in New Hampshire – but we won’t be able to solve this problem on our own. Our  state’s political leaders, lawmakers, and regulators must step up to restore access to all cost-effective  energy efficiency and reduce Granite Staters’ energy costs, not increase them.  

You may be surprised to hear this from somebody in the utility business, but being more efficient and using less energy is a good thing for families and businesses. That’s especially true when the price of energy is high. This winter, Granite Staters are facing some of the highest energy costs in recent memory, due in large part to surging global natural gas prices. This makes energy efficiency especially valuable for utility customers today, at the very moment New Hampshire is acting to phase out energy efficiency programs.  

So why would a utility like Liberty, in the business of delivering energy to customers, be in favor of programs like NHSaves, which help our customers save money by using less energy?  

The short answer is, under an effective energy efficiency policy, utilities actually do better when our customers pay less, for two big reasons: 

First, Liberty and New Hampshire’s other utility companies don’t profit on the sale of energy itself. The  price of electricity and natural gas are set in the regional and global market, and utilities simply pass those prices through to our customers. We don’t earn any profit from higher market prices. Rising market prices this winter are rooted in factors beyond New Hampshire’s control, including extreme weather events in other parts of the country and high demand for natural gas exports to Europe and Asia. But that doesn’t mean New Hampshire is powerless to protect families and businesses from rising energy bills. Energy efficiency is an extremely effective tool to lower overall energy costs, which is why NHSaves must be saved.  

Second, the state’s energy efficiency policy that was in place before Nov. 12 directly incentivized customer savings. Until Nov. 12, utilities like Liberty were able to earn a “performance incentive” if we successfully saved customers money through energy efficiency. Utilities earned more if customers saved more, an arrangement that encouraged utilities to spend more of their own money, change the way they operate, and take risks because they would share some the benefits of investments in efficiency with their customers – but only if customers’ bills decreased. Utilities and their customers saw gains from efficiency together. Now, that’s a neat trick – where else does a business earn more if its customers spend less? Unfortunately, this mechanism was eliminated through the decision to cut NHSaves, meaning everybody – especially customers – stands to lose. 

Luckily, our state’s leaders are in a great position to not only restore NHSaves and lower energy bills, but to strengthen and improve energy efficiency because there is broad, bipartisan consensus that energy efficiency ought to be a priority in New Hampshire.

NHSaves is popular and award-winning – New  Hampshire’s utilities have been named the ENERGY STAR Partner of the Year for seven consecutive years. NHSaves programs have put $3.4 billion back in New Hampshire customers’ pockets since their inception. And in fact, prioritizing energy efficiency is explicitly required under New Hampshire law. The New Hampshire Energy Policy law, RSA 378:37, states that “it shall be the energy policy of this state to maximize the use of cost-effective energy efficiency.” The 10-Year State Energy Strategy adopted by Gov. Sununu’s administration in 2018 further states that “energy efficiency is the cheapest and cleanest energy resource,” that “New Hampshire should prioritize capturing more efficiency,” and sets a  goal to “maximize cost-effective energy savings.”  

We couldn’t agree more, and we urge New Hampshire’s government leaders to work together to uphold the law and reinstate an energy efficiency policy that will lower energy bills for all Granite Staters. Doing so is essential to ensure New Hampshire’s energy needs are met in the most cost-effective way today and into the future.

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