Combining five bills, energy omnibus amendment gets Senate airing 

By: - May 10, 2023 5:00 am

The New Hampshire State House on Tuesday, May 9, 2023. (Dana Wormald | New Hampshire Bulletin)

A bipartisan omnibus amendment introduced this week in the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee combines five energy-related bills.

In an effort to “advance both House and Senate priorities,” the amendment is co-sponsored by Republican Sen. Kevin Avard, chair of the committee, and Democratic Sen. David Watters. 

While some elements received support during public testimony on Tuesday, speakers overwhelmingly opposed an included attempt to repeal a mandate that utilities submit least cost integrated resource plans to the Public Utilities Commission. 

The proposed amendment to House Bill 281, which is supported by the state’s Department of Energy, contains the following elements:

  • Repeals the requirement for electric and natural gas utilities to submit least cost integrated resource plans to the Public Utilities Commission, and have the commission evaluate the plans and maintain them on file
  • Removes the requirement that a municipal host under the Limited Electrical Energy Producers Act be located in the same municipality as all group members
  • Requires the Public Utilities Commission to provide an estimated annual cost of compliance with electric renewable portfolio standards in customers’ electric bills
  • Repeals the establishment of the Energy Efficiency and Sustainable Energy Board and transfers some of the board’s responsibilities to the Department of Energy
  • Makes various changes to the energy facility Site Evaluation Committee and permitting process

Least cost integrated resource plans

In March, House Republicans passed a bill that would eliminate the statutory requirement that both gas and electric utility companies submit least cost integrated resource plans every two years to the Public Utilities Commission – essentially showing they are investing their money wisely and for the public good. 

Those who support repealing the mandate say because of divestment, utilities are no longer potentially making money on the type or placement of electricity production facilities, so the requirement isn’t relevant any longer. 

Thomas Franz, director of regulatory support at the Department of Energy, said the information gathered through the least cost integrated resource plans is available via other PUC proceedings, and that the department is “happy to work with all of the parties to have a better, more tailored, modern program going forward.”

Meanwhile, Consumer Advocate Donald Kreis previously called these plans “the only way to control runaway utility investment.”

An attorney from Litchfield who has represented citizens in front of the PUC, Richard Husband urged legislators not to repeal the “guardrails” for the “meat and potatoes” of natural gas planning.

Eliminating the requirement would be a “significant loss for New Hampshire,” said Nick Krakoff, senior attorney for the Conservation Law Foundation. He told the Senate committee there is no other process where the PUC evaluates big picture impacts from utility planning. 

Krakoff cited an example being the Granite Bridge fracked natural gas project originally proposed by Liberty Utilities, which saw cost estimates as high as $440 million during the process. Because of the least cost oversight statute, he said, it was ultimately abandoned for a $40 million capacity contract, saving ratepayers “unnecessary expenses.” 

Meredith Hatfield, New Hampshire’s associate director for policy and government relations at the Nature Conservancy, contested that doing away with the plans would remove “critical tools for a range of interests being able to ensure that the hundreds of millions of dollars that our utilities spend are done so in the interest of ratepayers, the environment, and public health.”

Several speakers mentioned the utility companies did not request a repeal.

Site Evaluation Committee changes 

An effort earlier this legislative session to do away with the Site Evaluation Committee and move energy siting duties to the PUC drew significant citizen opposition during public hearings. While most people agreed the SEC needs updating, some feared what its total dissolution would mean. 

What legislators included in this week’s amendment was referred to as a “light” version. Instead of getting rid of the SEC – the body tasked with approving or denying new energy facility applications – the amendment makes mainly administrative changes to it.

It was much more palatable to those testifying Tuesday. Rep. Kat McGhee, a Hollis Democrat, called it “a good start” for further siting process improvements. 

Watters said he’s concerned about New Hampshire being seen as a state that can’t site new energy and distribution resources – especially with significant projects on the horizon, such as offshore wind power and a new Canadian hydropower transmission proposal

“We have to be able to reasonably have a process, with due public input and environmental concerns, where we can site energy facilities for this new energy economy that’s developing,” Watters said. 

Epping Republican Rep. Michael Vose, chair of the House Science, Technology, and Energy Committee and prime sponsor of the initial bill to dissolve the SEC, said he is “extremely supportive” of streamlining the siting process.

The amendment makes it so the Department of Energy is involved in a way it wasn’t before, he said, and it also clarifies the roles of state agencies, making sure their permitting decisions are “paramount.”

Mark Sanborn, assistant commissioner of the Department of Environmental Services, said staff and members of the SEC are doing their best and operating in “complete good faith.” But it’s an “inefficient, underfunded, poorly structured way of going about business.”

Sanborn called the amendment a “great step forward for anyone who cares about energy infrastructure in the state, renewable and traditional.” 

Read the entire amendment here: 

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Hadley Barndollar
Hadley Barndollar

Hadley Barndollar covers climate, energy, environment, and the opioid crisis for the New Hampshire Bulletin. Previously, she was the New England regional reporter for the USA TODAY Network and was named Reporter of the Year by the New England Newspaper and Press Association. Email: [email protected]