McGhee: How does looking the other way lower your electric bill?

HB 281 poses a threat to efforts to rein in energy costs for consumers
Kat Mcghee

Kat McGhee

There are a lot of things we disagree on at the State House, but we all agreed after the rate hikes in 2022 that we were committed to lowering your electric bills. House Bill 281 is a study in saying one thing and doing another.

While we’ve worked to pass bills that pave the way to lower electric rates like:

  • Senate Bill 54, which lets utilities enter into long-term purchased power agreements
  • HB 139, which lets municipalities partner on local power generation projects

Those bipartisan policies bring needed economies of scale to long-stalled local energy investment; but in sum, this year’s energy efforts help utilities more than customers.

The worst offense is the current rush to pass HB 281, which repeals the utility statue on “least-cost integrated resource planning,” LCIRP.

Repealing this statute does away with the requirement that utilities submit regular analysis to the Public Utilities Commission of energy options, the changing context of our energy landscape, and the associated costs that will be passed along to ratepayers. In fact, granting utilities the ability to enter into large-scale, long-term contracts (as we enabled with passage of SB 54), while removing the regulatory oversight for their decisions, puts blinders on the PUC’s ability to protect ratepayers from avoidable price hikes.

Other articles on this topic cite Granite Bridge as a case in point. We were told there was a gas shortage. The proposed solution came with a price tag of $414 million. Liberty Utilities’ LCIRP filing forced them to consider using existing pipelines with excess capacity to deliver the needed supply. The cost of the adequate solution was about 10 percent of the original proposal.

Can you imagine how long we’d be paying for that gold-plated solution if the LCIRP was not in place? LCIRP is a ratepayer protection statute. You deserve to know that the House Science, Technology & Energy Committee was told HB 281 is among Governor Sununu’s priorities for the session, though no one asked for its repeal and no utility or business groups spoke in favor of it in legislative hearings.

The steps we have taken to help consumers lower their bills this year are drops in the bucket compared to the increases ratepayers face if HB 281 passes into law. This bill asks us to kill state requirements for the utilities to provide demand forecasting — what do we need? will it work? – and distributed energy resources forecasting before they make large capital investments of your dollars.

The LCIRP statute, or something similar, is standard practice in many states because it requires that utilities supply options for meeting demand, so they can be weighed objectively for long-term impacts like environment, health, and cost burden. When you remove these guardrails, you get Granite Bridge part II!

If HB 281 passes into law, we will be allowing electric and gas utilities to forego the process of big-picture planning, remove the insight regulators need to understand “where we’re going” or “how we got here” in the aftermath of any future high-ticket boondoggle; we will be giving utilities the ability to pass on project costs that are not ‘least-cost’ to you, without proper scrutiny.

I testified in the hearing on HB 281, saying, “If the governor truly sees eliminating least-cost integrated resource planning as a priority – then my question is: Why?”

If someone tells you they want to lower your costs and then remove the statute that protects you from the greatest cost risk, that’s saying one thing and doing another.

If GOP leaders let the utilities off the hook for keeping your costs down by passing HB 281, you can have one guess who gets left on the hook!

State Rep. Kat McGhee, D-Hollis, is ranking member on the House Science, Technology & Energy Committee.

Categories: Energy and Environment, Government, Opinion