Dem lawmakers decry PUC order on energy efficiency
CONCORD – Energy efficiency efforts in New Hampshire will be taking a step backward to 2017 levels in the next few years under an order issued last week by the Public Utilities Commission, according to Democratic legislators.
The order will have negative economic and environmental impacts and signal that New Hampshire does not have the same priorities as its neighboring states, said state Sen. David Watters, D-Dover.
He hopes there is a legislative bipartisan fix to the Public Utilities Commission’s Nov. 17 order relating to the implementation of Energy Efficiency Programs.
And the order may face a court appeal.
Meanwhile, utility companies that were planning to ramp up their energy efficiency programs are reassessing where the order will take their programs and the residents they serve.
Watters was joined Thursday by Senators Becky Whitley, Rebecca Perkins Kwoka, and state Representatives Kat McGhee and Peter Somssich in a virtual press conference where they discussed the impacts of the order decreasing funding for energy efficiency programs over the next two years and rejecting the triennial (or three year) energy efficiency plan.
They said it will mean low-income people who are waiting to get their homes retrofitted with energy efficiency upgrades could be left in the cold and the cost of heating those homes spread out to the taxpayers. And it could also mean that workers installing efficiency systems will be laid off, they said.
The order https://www.puc.nh.gov/Regulatory/Orders/2021Orders/26-553.pdf was signed by Dianne Martin, chair who left that position after the order was signed and Daniel Goldner, commissioner.
Whitley said the state’s four electric and gas utilities, environmental groups, and the Office of the Consumer Advocate agreed that the rejected plan would benefit the state by decreasing energy use and saving everyone money.
“Not only does this have an economic impact but also an environmental one,” Whitley said.
She noted last week’s climate summit in Glasgow, Scotland where nearly 200 counties came together to form a plan to fight climate change.
“Look, this is an urgent matter and we cannot be taking steps backward. In order to really tackle the existential threat of a climate crisis, local action, state and local action has to lay the groundwork for any global commitments to come to fruition,” the Contoocook Democrat said.
Watters said the decision will have a direct impact on projects in his district including the Somersworth Housing Authority which is taking housing units down to the studs and making them more energy efficient.
“This was going to mean those residents would be healthier, more comfortable, would save money, and would save a lot of money for the residents of Somersworth. That project is losing $1 million. It means some people are going to be cold this winter and the total impact on Community Action partners will be several million dollars. This is just terrible for what this means for people’s lives right now as winter approaches.”
Watters noted that New Hampshire suffers from some of the highest energy costs and it is behind its neighboring states in reducing greenhouse gas, energy efficiency, and energy planning.
Watters said New Hampshire has been ranked last in the region by the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy but has been working to improve its position through the NHSaves program.
However, when the PUC rejected the 2021-2023 energy efficiency plan “they actively backed away from the plan of the state to slash funding for energy efficiency for the next two years, returning them to 2017 funding levels.
“So who could be for this? Certainly not the ratepayers who invested in energy efficiency appliances, certainly not the contractors working with the utilities to retrofit, not the service businesses who have made a significant investment into new equipment and staff under the premise that their hard work to build a more sustainable future would be financially rewarded through the sustained ability of these state programs. So who benefits, and not the utilities, they are fully committed to helping low-income residents.
“The only supporters are people who are opposed to helping our neighbors,” Watters said.
Rep. McGhee of Hollis said it is a complex process and hard to understand but it is important for the public to understand what has happened with this order which was delayed for 11 months.
“We want to draw attention to a process that was working well and this deviation from that process,” she said.
McGhee wanted to ask Gov. Chris Sununu to “stick with his original position that he was in favor of energy efficiency and do what he can to come back to support the energy efficiency plan, calling on the Department of Energy and Environmental Services to use their roles as intervenors here to insert themselves back in the process and try to get this back on track.”
Rep. Somssich, a physicist and scientist who represents Portsmouth, said energy efficiency is a very effective method of reducing our energy needs while we are becoming more efficient.
The state is making itself look very unattractive to young people considering where to move by its lack of focus on energy efficiency programs, he said.
And like Watters, Somssich said he can see the direct impact in his district.
He said Portsmouth Unitarian Universalist Church is trying to get an energy efficiency program approved by the state and it is also being put on hold, something that could save it and many other churches in this state money.
Watters said he felt that there could be a bipartisan solution with late legislation or amendments to existing bills.
“I think there is a bipartisan path forward,” he said.