Energy-efficiency funding targeted in NH House budget measure

Companion bill would rebate 20 percent of Renewable Energy Fund to ratepayers

The NH House will be voting on cutting back on renewable energy and perhaps energy efficiency on Wednesday, but most lawmakers probably wouldn’t know it. That’s because the two small energy clauses are tucked into the 45,000-word House Bill 2, the companion bill to the budget.

The two energy clauses in HB 2 won’t affect state spending, but they may have an impact on ratepayers. One clause would rebate a fifth of the money in the state’s Renewable Energy Fund, or REF – paid by utilities that fail to meet renewable energy portfolio standards – back to ratepayers. Currently all of the fund’s money supports renewable energy programs.

The Senate has a different idea.

It had earlier passed Senate Bill 129, which would direct 15 percent of the REF to low-income solar projects, in answer to the criticism that solar energy primarily benefits the wealthy. SB 129 also increases the standard for solar and wood, earning it the strong support of the NH Timberland Owners Association and the NH Clean Tech Council. But the measure is opposed by the Business and Industry Association, which worries that it will shift costs to other ratepayers and hurt manufacturers.

In the House Rep. Patricia Lovejoy, D-Stratham and Rep. Bob Backus, D-Manchester, will propose a floor amendment deleting the clauses that target the REF from HB 2.

The proposed REF rebate echoes an earlier cutback in another energy program – the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, or RGGI. In New Hampshire, RGGI money – funded by producers bidding for the right to emit pollutants that cause climate change – originally was targeted to both residential and commercial efficiency programs. But lawmakers later passed a bill that rebates all but the first dollar of money from those auctions.

After that, the most funding for energy efficiency comes from the system benefits charge, or SBC, found on electric and gas bills. But last fall the NH Public Utilities Commission instituted the Energy-Efficiency Resource Standard, which would require substantially increasing the SBC to meet it.

Currently, the PUC does not need legislative approval to raise the charge, if it is in ratepayers’ interest. Utilities and affected parties are now meeting to discuss plans to raise the SBC and how to spend it

However, a clause in HB 2 bill says the PUC “shall not expend any funding on the implementation of an energy efficiency resource standard without prior approval of the fiscal committee of the general court.”

This may or may not be a prohibition, since when the Legislature talks about funding, it generally refers to taxpayer, not ratepayer, dollars.

Categories: Energy and Environment, News