The Bulletin Board

Increased cap on net metering, other environmental measures approved

By: - June 24, 2021 5:04 pm
A worker checks on solar panels

House Bill 315 raises the cap on net metering from 1 megawatt to 5 megawatts, but only for arrays that are owned by “political subdivisions” in the state, like counties or municipalities. (Getty Images)

An array of environmental legislation made its way through the House and Senate Thursday, including a measure to increase the cap on net metering that lawmakers have been trying to pass for years. 

Other environmental efforts, such as a ban on jet skis in one Seacoast area and a buffer between state parks and landfills, won’t make it any further this session. 

The version of House Bill 315 that lawmakers approved Thursday would allow municipalities to net meter 5 megawatts, a win for advocates of clean energy. That’s enough energy to power around 2,000 homes. The current cap is 1 megawatt. 

Gov. Chris Sununu has vetoed efforts to expand net metering in the past, but this narrowly tailored bill, which would allow only municipalities to increase net metering, is something the governor has said he would support. 

Net metering is a policy that allows renewable generation to get credit for excess power that is sent back to the grid. Net metering can incentivize the development of renewables, and local resources can make the grid more resilient. It’s commonly associated with residential rooftop solar, but it can also be used in conjunction with hydro and wind.

The Senate tacked the net metering measure onto HB 315 rather than send its own version in Senate Bill 109 to the House. So far, it appears that tactic has been successful.

The underlying bill dealing with aggregating electric customers, or community power, also went through a complete rewrite from when it was introduced. What started as legislation that would have been detrimental to community power – where a group of customers can join together and make decisions about how they’re procuring power – became a bill that advocates of community power hope will send a message to state officials that have not written the necessary rules to get community power efforts off the ground.

While Sununu signed a bill in 2019 enabling community power, the Public Utilities Commission has stalled in putting forward rules to enable it to move forward. 

Senate Bill 91

The fate of HB 315 had been tied to another environmental bill in committee of conference negotiations. 

The House passed the committee of conference report on SB 91 in a voice vote on Thursday. The bill is a four-part measure that addresses energy storage at a time when battery use is becoming more common in energy management. 

The Senate also approved the report in a voice vote. 

Sen. David Watters, a Dover Democrat, commended the lawmakers who had participated in the committee of conference negotiations on the bill. 

He said in January he would have given SB 91 and HB 315  “a snowball’s chance in June.”

“But here we are,” he said. “This is tough negotiating, maybe not up there with HB 2, but a really interesting session.”

Watters said the measure would move the state forward in “dramatic ways on renewable energy and energy storage.” 

The bill clarifies that individual hydroelectric producers sharing equipment are still counted separately for purposes of the net metering cap. It also addresses when new net metering rates will go into effect for low-moderate income community solar projects. The fourth part of the bill sets up a study commission to answer questions about small-scale energy production in the state.

SB 146, an omnibus environmental bill that creates a coastal program and establishes funding for it, among other measures, also passed both chambers on Thursday. 

Landfill issue nearly overturns unrelated legislation

Lawmakers in the Senate considered shooting down SB 103, defeating the committee of conference report in a 12-12 vote. 

The underlying legislation of SB 103 has to do with nexus emergency and disaster provisions. But it also became a vehicle for a contentious environmental protection – creating a two-mile buffer between state parks and landfills. 

The House added what had been HB 177 into the Senate Bill, but the environmental protection was subsequently taken out again during negotiations last week. 

The Senate voted 12-12 to defeat the report from the committee of conference, which would have killed the underlying legislation. Sen. Jeb Bradley, a Wolfeboro Republican, made a motion to reconsider. But that motion failed, 10-14. 

It was only after Sen. Denise Ricciardi, a Bedford Republican, made a second motion to reconsider that the motion passed, 14-10. Bradley spoke on the bill, saying that the underlying effort was not controversial and could, if passed, be a meaningful improvement for the state. 

After a final vote, the committee of conference report was approved and the underlying legislation will make its way forward, without any buffer provision. 

Environmental protection for the Seacoast fails

The House sustained Sununu’s only veto to date this session, 175-182. House Bill 146 would have banned jet skis in sensitive marsh ecosystems in Rye and the New Castle back channel. 

Eelgrass is one piece of the delicate ecosystem that lawmakers and residents hoped to protect. 

“This bill came at the request of the residents of Rye and New Castle to address a local issue,” said Rep. Kate Murray, a New Castle Democrat and the prime sponsor of the legislation. 

“The very limited area is fragile and basically is an expansive mud for about two-thirds of the time and is underwater at very deceptively shallow levels,” she said. 

She said that even the jet ski industry supported the measure. Without the votes to overturn the veto, the bill is effectively dead.

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Amanda Gokee
Amanda Gokee

Amanda Gokee reported on energy and environment for New Hampshire Bulletin. She also 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.