The Bulletin Board
New Department of Energy emerges intact from budget process
The utilities are still facing a Dec. 15 deadline to submit revised energy efficiency plans, based on the diminished funding levels announced in November. (Dave Cummings | New Hampshire Bulletin)
In the months of negotiations over the state’s next biennial budget, there was comparative silence on one item that would reshape energy policy in the state.
The version of the budget that has been approved by both the House and Senate contains a new Department of Energy, reorganizing what is now the Office of Strategic Initiatives, the Public Utilities Commission, and the Site Evaluation Committee so that energy issues would all be housed in one department.
The House and Senate made minor changes to the proposal, which originated in the governor’s office. The House stripped staff positions from the Public Utilities Commission, raising concern among some because the commission would have been left without a staff attorney. That position was subsequently restored in the Senate.
The idea of creating a Department of Energy to house energy issues in the state isn’t new. Historically, Democrats – including Martha Fuller Clark and Bob Backus – have advocated for this kind of reorganization.
But this iteration faced pushback from Democrats, who criticized Gov. Chris Sununu for adding the proposal to the budget late in the game. They said the proposal was rushed and that for something as significant as creating a new department, the process should be more transparent and inclusive. A budget item does not go through the same process as a bill, which is subject to public hearings and offers more opportunity for input from experts and stakeholders.
While creating the Department of Energy has become a partisan issue, it has the support of many advocates of clean energy. Proponents of the reorganization say it would lead to greater transparency and accountability.
The reorganization would mean that the department would also be able to go before the Public Utilities Commission and present the state’s position on a given issue, which currently is not often the practice.
The proposal also creates an Office of Offshore Wind Industry Development within the Department of Energy at a time when many in the state expect offshore wind to be a major player in the future of energy in the state.
The governor released a statement on Thursday calling the budget that had been approved by both chambers a win for all residents of New Hampshire. Having indicated his support, a veto seems unlikely, which means the Department of Energy is likely to be signed into law.
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