Dem lawmakers have given session a noticeable green tint

Collection of measures sets array of environmental goals

After taking power in a blue wave, New Hampshire Democratic lawmakers are passing what amounts to be a green wave of legislation.

It is not exactly the splashy federal Green New Deal resolution pushed by the newly elected congressional Democrats, but, as Cathy Corkery, New Hampshire Sierra Club chapter director, said, “it is exciting.”

It is also ambitious for New Hampshire, which has been less aggressive than its surrounding states’ environmental policy.

“We need to catch up. There have been six years of pent-up demand, and the floodgates are open,” said Rep. Rebecca McWilliams, D-Concord.

In the last few weeks, lawmakers in one chamber or the other, or both, have passed 33 out of 50 bills related to the environment. The bills would:

• Increase the state’s renewable portfolio standards (RPS) from 25 percent renewable energy in 2025 to 60 percent by 2040.

• Increase fivefold the size of projects eligible for net metering.

• End the Regional Greenhouse Gas initiative (RGGI) rebate and use all proceeds for energy efficiency.

• Allow the Public Utilities Commission to raise electrical rates to pay for storage projects and energy efficiency.

The House also has voted to upgrade the state’s energy code, ban offshore oil drilling and call for offshore wind power.

The bills don’t only relate to energy policy. In the House, bills have been approved to ban single-use plastic bags and plastic straws, double air pollution fines, cut the arsenic standard in half and expand wetlands regulation. Indeed, if you count another 11 bills re-referred or retained for next year — including a proposed carbon tax — you have an unusually high 90 percent survival rate.

“I think our Democratic friends in the Legislature have seen this as an opportunity to do anything they want,” said Sen. Jeb Bradley, R-Wolfeboro. “But there has to be some balance with the cost involved, on businesses, on ratepayers on taxpayers.”

Green New Deal

Still, we are only at the halfway point on April 11 — crossover day — when all bills passed by one chamber go to the other, and it is unclear whether the bills will survive, even though chambers are controlled by Democrats. Business organizations are lobbying hard against many of them.

And it’s uncertain whether Gov. Chris Sununu will allow them to become law. Sununu, who has made his veto intentions clear on such issues as taxes, the death penalty and paid family leave, has largely been silent on environmental legislation. He has, as a former environmental engineer, touted his green credentials, so a blanket veto of all these bills might tarnish that image and hurt him in any upcoming election, whether it be to remain as governor or run for a U.S. Senate seat.

With one major exception, the party-line votes to pass these bills were not lopsided enough to overcome any vetoes. (Sununu’s press secretary did not respond to NH Business Review inquiries for comment.)

The federal Green New Deal — most identified with U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York and taken up by a number of Democratic presidential candidates — calls for 100 percent clean renewable energy by 2030. It also includes a massive public works program on the scale of the old New Deal during the Roosevelt administration.

The deal would cost up to $1 trillion a year, partially paid for by a $60-per-ton carbon tax that will increase by $20 a year. It would also be financed by cuts in fossil fuel subsidies, expected avoided health costs from reducing pollution, and slashing the defense budget by $500 billion (on the premise that the nation would no longer need the military resources to defend foreign fuels). It also would help fossil fuel workers transition into the new economy as well as low- and moderate-income people bearing the brunt of the carbon tax and those living in areas affected by climate change.

But the Green New Deal, at this point, is a resolution, not a comprehensive piece of legislation.

New Hampshire lawmakers and environmental activist have developed their own energy blueprint, a white paper that echoes the Green New Deal’s goals of moving to 100 percent renewables (though by 2040) and joining efforts to create “a nationwide carbon pricing system.” But it was written in response to changes in the governor’s state energy plan, which favors lowering electricity costs over expanding renewable energy.

“The governor’s update was a down-date,” said Rep. Robert Backus, D-Manchester, head of the House Science, Technology and Energy Committee and an author of the Democrats’ white paper. “We are falling behind in pushing for renewables and energy efficiency. We would like to green up New Hampshire on the energy front.”

In addition to a handful of Democratic representatives, white paper authors included Doug Bogen of the Seacoast Anti-Pollution League, Dan Weeks of ReVision Energy, Bob King of the Granite State Hydropower Association and Jasen Stock of the New Hampshire Timberland Owners Association.

Not all environmental organizations signed on to the white paper.

“We did not take a position” on the white paper, said Madeleine Mineau, executive director of Clean Energy NH, which backed almost all of the green energy bills. “We feel strongly that renewable energy is not a partisan issue. It’s about keeping our energy dollars in the state. This type of bipartisan support is how we think we will make progress in this state.”

But for the most part, most of the bills have passed on party-line votes.

Renewables

Under New Hampshire’s current renewable portfolio standards (RPS), utilities must get a quarter of their energy from renewable sources by 2025 or pay a penalty. That standard is behind neighboring states. Vermont’s RPS is 55 percent, Maine’s is 35 percent and Massachusetts’s goal goals are 35 percent by 2030 and 45 percent by 2030. (Vermont would go up to 75 percent by 2035, though it includes larger hydropower as a renewable.)

The New Hampshire Senate passed bills upping the Granite State’s standards. Senate Bill 168 would increase the solar portion from .07 to 1.9 percent by next year and to 5.4 percent in 2025. SB 124 would increase the standards after 2025 on each renewable class, with the goal of reaching 60 percent by 2040.

“This is a very serious, pressing issue,” said Sen. Martha Fuller Clark, D-Portsmouth, on the Senate floor. “We need to make critical changes to avoid the most drastic effects of climate change. We need to become more of a leader in this area.”

Countered Senator Bradley: “The costs are going to be significant, and the other question is reliability.”

Bradley argued that since the law won’t take effect for another five years, it should be re-referred and studied. The House passed a bill that would set up a study committee to see what would be needed to move to 50 percent by 2040.

One way to increase renewable energy is to raise the cap on projects eligible for a net metering, whereby the utility credits the customer for the amount of energy they generate.  New Hampshire’s cap is currently 1 megawatt, lower than most caps around the country, including Massachusetts, which has a 2-megawatt cap on private projects and 10 megawatts for public projects.

Last session, Sununu vetoed a bill that would have increased the cap for all projects to 5 megawatts. But this year, both the House and Senate have voted to pass similar bills, with veto-proof margins. SB 159 would include a provision that would calculate the credit for such generation as a load reduction rather than something the utility would resell into the regional grid. This would help reduce peak demand, as well as reduce distribution costs, said Mineau of Clean Energy NH, “and help alleviate any concern about cost-shifting.”

Peak demand has continued to go up in New Hampshire, where it has gone down in every other New England state. And that, said Mineau, means the state would pay a larger share into the grid, increasing transmission costs.

The BIA has opposed increasing the net metering cap because of cost-shifting concerns, but individual businesses as well as municipalities are backing expansion as a way to cut electricity costs.

It would enable Middleton Building Supply, for example, to build a solar facility to take care of all its electric needs, said Marcella Perry, the company’s chief financial officer. She added the company could build separate smaller facilities to increase generation, but then it would have to multiply startup and overhead costs, making it less economically feasible.

“Give us an opportunity as a business to make our own business decisions,” she said.

The House also has passed House Bill 466, which would increase the upper limit on a small generator from 100 to 500 kilowatts, allowing more small businesses to get a better reimbursement rate than originally set for rooftop solar.

But the difference in those rates “must be passed on to all ratepayers,” argued Rep. Fred Plett, R-Goffstown, on the House floor. “It’s reaching into people’s pockets.”

“They keep talking about ratepayers. Nobody pays rates, they pay bills,” replied Backus, sponsor of the bill, arguing that the legislation would help not only those that participate in the program to cut the amount they are paying but by lowering peak demand, cut transmission and distribution costs, which would save money for everyone else.

Energy efficiency

Many of these same arguments about energy efficiency are similar to the debate over what to do with the proceeds from RGGI, the nine-state program that requires power plants to purchase the right to emit carbon into the air.

Since 2012, New Hampshire has rebated about three-quarters of the RGGI proceeds back to the ratepayers, far more than any other RGGI state. All of New Hampshire’s neighboring states, for instance, spend all RGGI proceeds on energy efficiency or renewable programs.

Under SB 122, New Hampshire would join them. It would end the rebates and direct all RGGI proceeds to be spent on energy efficiency, increasing the amount going to low-income residents, school districts and local governments. The House version — HB 582 — would do the same for residential rates, though it would rebate the total amount to businesses and institutions.

Lawmakers would also allow the PUC to increase the system benefits charge, which supports energy-efficiency projects, as long as a reduction in peak demand ends up saving ratepayers more than it actually costs. Lawmakers passed a bill last session that would require that the Joint Legislative fiscal Committee approve such adjustments, but SB 205 would take them out of the loop until at least 2026 and HB 166 removes legislative oversight altogether.

Similar bills, would allow ratepayers to foot the bill for storage investments. SB 204 would allow utilities to pass along storage costs to customers if they increase reliability and efficiency. (It also would allow municipalities to exempt energy storage systems from property taxes.) HB 715 would allow the PUC to impose a tariff to reach a 2 percent storage reduction goal in peak demand, allowing it to up that goal to 15 percent if it is deemed to be in the best interest of the ratepayers.

 

Bill Description
Energy Efficiency
SB122 Ends RGGI rebate, gives all proceeds to energy efficiency projects and increases the amount going to low income residents, school districts and local government. (Currently a quarter of proceeds go to energy efficiency, but the rest is rebated.)
HB582 Ends RGGI rebate for residential customers and gives all proceeds to residential and municipal projects. Rebates all commercial proceeds to businesses, with none going to commercial energy efficiency. It also would make RGGI a permanent, non-lapsing program.
SB24 Updates RGGI so it conforms to the increased goals of the regional programs to reduce emissions.
HB166 Removes the requirement that the Legislature approve increases to the system benefits charge on utility bills used for energy-efficiency.
SB205 Remove the requirement for legislative approval of system benefits charge changes to increase energy efficiency for the next six years, but a fifth has to be spent on projects benefiting low-income residents.
Net Metering
HB365 Increases the maximum size a renewable energy project to take advantage of net metering from 1 to 5 megawatts. (This is similar to a bill that the governor vetoed last year.)
SB159 Increases net metering limit from 1 to 5 megawatts for renewable generation and storage. Also would account for it as load reduction, enabling the state to reduce peak load.
HB466 Increases the apportionment for net energy metering provisions from electrical facilities with total generating capacity of 100 kilowatts to 500 kilowatts. This allows more small to mid-sized businesses to take advantage of the law.
SB166 Requires competitive electricity suppliers to purchase electricity generation from net energy metering just like regulated electric utilities do.
SB165 Known as the “Low-Income Community Solar Act of 2019,” it requires two low-income net metering solar projects in each utility service area, with more favorable metering terms.
SB72 Repeals the requirement that NH Public Utilities Commission estimate and give credit for the total yearly production for customer-sited sources that are net metered.
Renewables and Storage
SB124 Increases the renewable portfolio standards by a certain percentage each year after 2025, currently at 25.2 percent.
SB168 Increases the solar renewable portfolio standard from .07 to 1.9 percent in 2020 to 5.4 percent in 2025.
HB715 Initially sets a goal to reduce peak demand via energy storage by 2 percent, charges the NH Public Utilities Commission to cut it as much as 15 percent, allowing the PUC to increase rates, as long as it results in a net benefit to ratepayers.
SB204 Includes energy storage among the distribution costs ratepayers pay on their electric bill.
HB464 Defines solar energy systems and wind-powered energy systems so it can be exempted from real estate assessments of value.
SB286 Permits municipalities and counties to develop plans for electric aggregation programs.
Other Energy Bills
HB568 Requires the energy strategy of the state to include consideration of the effects of climate change.
SB76 Prohibits offshore oil and natural gas exploration off the shores of New Hampshire.
HB562 Updates all building codes from 2009 to 2015, including the energy code.
SB123 Prohibits electric distribution companies from acquiring natural gas capacity or supply or interests in natural gas infrastructure at ratepayers’ expense.
SB206 Excludes the cost of lobbying and political activity from the rates of public utilities.
SB167 Creates a clean energy resource procurement commission.
HB635 Enables a payment in lieu of taxes for a combined heat and power agricultural facility.
SB284 Creates a statewide online energy data platform regulated by the NH Public Utilities Commission and operated by the state’s electric and natural gas utilities.
Other Environmental Bills
HB558 Prohibits food service businesses from providing a single-use plastic straw to a customer unless specifically asks for one.
HB560 Prohibit stores of more than 1000 square feet from giving out single-use plastic bags after using up inventory, and requires stores charge a least a dime for reusable bags.
HB494 Declares Coakley Landfill as an imminent hazard and directs state Department of Environmental Services to contain it or clean it up.
HB261 Cuts arsenic limits in drinking water in half.
HB358 Brings back the complete ban on burning C&D waste.
HB614 Doubles most air pollution control penalties. It also adds a clause that would count each violation as a separate offense, greatly enhancing penalties.
SB275 Requires that all of the state’s motor vehicles will be zero emissions vehicles by the year 2039.
SB241 Funds for the project development phase of the capitol corridor rail project.
HB682 Double most and triples some wetlands fees
Still to be voted on (re-referred, retained or tabled)
HB735 Imposes a tax every ton of carbon equivalent fuel sold, used or entered. Starts at $20 a ton, ends up $120 by 2030.
SB287 Would require the NH Department of Environmental Services revise rules relative to perfluorinated chemical contamination in drinking water. The committee recommended the bill go back to committee.
SB13 Increases the cap net energy metering limits for customer generators from 1 to 5 megawatts.
HB704 Would prohibit the transportation, storage and disposal of nuclear waste.
HB102 Allows towns to regulate the distribution of single-use plastics.
HB559 Enables municipalities to prohibit the distribution, sale, and purchase of products that contribute to plastic pollution.
HB661 Would give a private right of action for toxic exposure.
SB312 Would require companies that release toxic substances pay to medically monitor those who might have been exposed to them.
HB542 Would establish a grant program to support municipalities in updating their wetlands regulations.
HB543 Creates a buffer area around wetlands.
HJR1 Supports efforts to develop wind power off the New Hampshire coast.
HB646 Relative to labeling, signage and restrictions on the sales and use of bee-toxic pesticides.

 

Categories: Energy and Environment

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