House bills could reshape New Hampshire's energy-efficiency policy

Lawmakers to vote Tuesday, Wednesday on key measures

The NH House is scheduled to vote this week on five major bills left over from last year that could reshape the state’s clean energy policy.

House Bill 317 would take the authority to set your electric bill’s system benefits charge away from the Public Utilities Commission. The bill was prompted by a recent PUC action to nearly double the charge from slightly over $2 to slightly under $4 on an average residential bill by 2020 to pay for a new energy-efficiency resource standard.

The PUC determined, and utilities and business groups agreed, that the money that ratepayers save, both by participating in the programs and by cutting transmission and generation costs for all – would more than make up for the increase.

But supporters argued that it is like a tax or a fee which would increase energy costs and should set by the Legislature.

The amended bill would not go into effect until 2020, so it would not impact the previous PUC decision.

With a House Science, Technology and Energy Committee recommendation of 11-10, expect a close House vote. If passed it would go to the Senate.

There also are two bills dealing with the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, or RGGI, an eight-state program that requires power producers to pay for every ton of carbon emitted. The proceeds go back to the states, with the intention, but not the requirement, that they be spent on energy-efficiency programs. Since 2012 all but the first dollar of RGGI proceeds have been rebated to customers. Both bills focus on those rebates.

HB 592 would end New Hampshire’s participation in RGGI, meaning no more money from the program would go to energy-efficiency programs. That passed the committee by a 11-10 vote.

HB 559 would rebate all of the RGGI money to commercial customers but none to residential customers. Instead, some money would be used for residential energy-efficiency programs, mostly benefiting low income residents, as well as municipality and school programs. That bill failed in the committee by a 11-10 vote.

Finally, there are two bills dealing with renewable energy portfolio standards, which require utilities to either obtain a quarter of their energy from renewable sources by 2025, buy them using renewable energy credits, or RECs, or pay a penalty, called an alternative compliance payment, or ACP. That money goes toward renewable programs.

HB 114 would stop policy in its tracks by freezing the new source section of the renewable energy program at 6 percent, as opposed to the required 15 percent by 2025.

That passed the committee, 11-10.

HB 141 would allow the PUC to adjust the standard so that the REC market would be more stabilized. That passed the committee, 17-4.

Supporters of both bills argued that costs involved in the standard allows ratepayers to subsidize renewable energy goals. Opponents say that renewable energy is necessary to control energy costs, reduce dependence on foreign or out- of-state fuels, particularly natural gas, and help the local clean tech industry.

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