The Bulletin Board

Lawmakers work on details of proposed Department of Energy

By: - May 18, 2021 5:05 pm
New Hampshire state house

Two other nominations for the remaining seats on the Public Utilities Commission have been put before the Executive Council. (Getty Images)

On Monday, the Senate Finance Committee continued hammering out a proposal to create a new Department of Energy, adding positions to the Public Utilities Commission, and clarifying the so-called firewall between the utilities commission and the proposed department.

State Budget Director Matt Mailloux presented an amendment to the panel to add attorney and clerk positions to the utilities commission. This would not create new positions but would shift them from the Department of Energy to the commission. Mailloux said the “technical” amendments would also clarify the firewall between the commission and the Department of Energy, and create a study panel to address concerns about the Site Evaluation Committee.

“We’ve pulled more personnel into this division and also broadened the scope of what their support staff would have as far as backgrounds and qualifications,” Mailloux said, crediting “stakeholders” who were concerned that the utilities commission has the right kind and right number of staff.

The new department would rearrange state government: bringing energy issues from the Office of Strategic Initiatives and policy-making components of the utilities commission together under one department.

The proposal has faced Democratic opposition due to the concern that it would chip away at the independence of the utilities commission. The governor’s office maintains that the restructuring will solve perceived conflicts at the commission, where staff are both a part of proceedings and in an advisory role to the commissioners. 

The amendment added firewall protection to ensure that no ex parte communication would happen between department employees and the utilities commission. 

Democrats have also argued that the budget is not the right place for a restructuring of state government.

In Monday’s session, Sen. Lou D’Allesandro of Manchester called the creation of a new department a humongous task and questioned whether the plan to create the department had been well thought out.

“We have this 19-page amendment coming at the 11th hour,” D’Allessandro said.

“Given the magnitude of the amendment, (Mailloux) says they are all just technical corrections, but when you look at it, these are things that evidently weren’t brought before the House,” D’Allesandro said.

Mailloux said the issues addressed by the amendment had been raised in conversations with stakeholders over the past few months. He said there was bipartisan support for the proposal, and that the idea originated in 2019 when Rep. Bob Backus, a Democrat, originally called for the creation of such a department.

“The budget really is the place for fiscal decisions of this nature to be made,” Mailloux said.

“I disagree with that,” D’Allessandro said. “I think the Legislature is the place where good, constructive reorganization should take place because they’re going to have to implement it, support it, and finance it as it moves forward.”

Mailloux said the reorganization would save state government about half a million dollars in expenses per biennium. The amendments that were introduced on Monday account for another $190,000 in savings from “increased efficiencies.” Mailloux said that energy policy motivated the change, not the “modest” savings.

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

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.