The Bulletin Board

Energy efficiency decision draws opposition

By: - November 23, 2021 3:43 pm
A new rooftop and solar panels

Proponents of energy efficiency say the order would gut the state’s programs, which operate under NHSaves. (Mischa Keijser | Getty Images)

This story has been updated at 5:47 p.m. on Nov. 23, 2021 to include comments from Gov. Chris Sununu.

A decision from the Public Utilities Commission to reject the state’s triennial energy efficiency plan is facing opposition from the city of Dover, and Democrats in the state are asking the governor to take a stance.

Additionally, the nonprofit Clean Energy New Hampshire is planning to sue the commission over its decision, and utilities are also expected to challenge the decision before their Dec. 15 deadline for submitting updated energy efficiency plans. 

 In a Nov. 21 letter, the mayor of Dover asked the utilities commission to reverse its decision, which defunded the state’s energy efficiency programs in 2022 and 2023 and led Eversource to halt home weatherization programs.

 “Your decision is already having a negative impact,” wrote Robert Carrier. “As of this letter, CAPSC [Community Action Partnership of Strafford County] is in the process of withdrawing over $1 million in support of existing projects and cancelling all planned projects in 2022, including Dover Children’s Home.”

 Carrier estimated that 30 percent of Dover residents have already used the NHSaves program and said the city has relied on the program to reduce operating costs and improve the quality of the environment. NHSaves provides incentives like rebates for home weatherization and energy efficiency appliances. The program has a high standard when it comes to safety and health measures. The PUC decision determined that the maximum on a given low-income project would be lowered from $20,000 to $8,000.

 “This ruling will impact our disadvantaged residents the hardest,” Carrier wrote. “Through the efforts of Community Action Partnership of Strafford County’s (CAPSC) weatherization program, heating cost reductions for clients have been great enough that they no longer need to decide between paying a utility bill or putting food on the table.”

 Additionally, 12 House and Senate Democrats sent a letter to Gov. Chris Sununu on Monday criticizing the decision and asking the governor to reaffirm his support for state energy efficiency programs.

During a press conference on Tuesday, the governor said he appreciated that the PUC is looking to keep energy rates low, although he has heard concerns from the utilities that the decision may not be implementable. Sununu said he didn’t want energy efficiency programs to “wither” and is hopeful for a solution that does not involve litigation. 

“I definitely appreciate their focus on making sure our ratepayers are not taken advantage of,” he said, adding that electric rates in New Hampshire have not “skyrocketed,” unlike other states in New England.

That wasn’t quite the response Democrats hoped for.

 “In your role as governor, we ask that you continue your previously stated support of our state’s EERS [Energy Efficiency Resource Standard] program and utilize the Department of Energy’s role as an intervener to ensure New Hampshire is not sent further off track,” the Democrats wrote in their letter. 

They pointed to the high cost of electricity in New Hampshire: “Lowering electric rates for New Hampshire families and businesses is undoubtedly a bipartisan priority,” they said, adding that “energy efficiency programs are the way out of devastatingly high costs to ratepayers.”

Energy efficiency decreases demand for energy, which can push rates down. New Hampshire’s electricity is currently the eighth most expensive in the country for residential rates, according to Statista.  

In a press conference last week, Democrats said legislation could be introduced to reverse the decision from the utilities commission and restore funding to the state’s energy efficiency programs.

On Monday, Eversource and some of the other utilities including Liberty held a meeting with the contractors that complete home weatherization work through the state’s NHSaves program to discuss the impact of the decision on their business.  

Ted Stiles, an energy auditor who works for Yankee Thermal Imaging, said the conference call was not encouraging. He said action seemed unlikely over the next few weeks to a month, raising concern that many contracts would be unable to stop work for so long with their business intact.

 

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Amanda Gokee
Amanda Gokee

Amanda Gokee is the New Hampshire Bulletin’s energy and environment reporter. She previously reported on these issues at VTDigger. Amanda grew up in Vermont and is a graduate of Harvard University. She received her master’s degree in liberal studies, with a concentration in creative writing, from Dartmouth College. Her work has also appeared in the LA Review of Books and the Valley News.

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