New Hampshire House OKs big hike in required solar use by utilities

Measure goes to Sununu’s desk days after net metering veto

Two days after Gov. Chris Sununu vetoed a bill that would help develop large-scale solar products, the New Hampshire House passed a bill that would greatly increase the required percentage of solar energy that utilities would have to include in the electricity they sell

Senate Bill 168 amends the state’s renewable portfolio standards for solar to 5.4% by 2025, up from the current 0.6%.

Solar has always been the hottest item in the portfolio standards. The Republican-dominated Legislature focused on it several sessions ago, freezing the increase to 0.7% in 2020. (It would eventually would have gone up to 1%.) But the use of solar has already surpassed that mark on its own, so utilities no longer have to buy renewable energy credits to increase it further. These credits feed the Renewable Energy Fund, which helps pay for all sorts of renewable energy projects, including solar.

The move to increase the percentage to 5.4% caused some heated debate on the House floor on Wednesday.

Rep. Michael Harrington, R-Strafford, said the change would cost ratepayers $30 million and lead to the construction of 23,000 acres of solar panels to meet the standards.

But things really got hot when he called proponents of the bill believers in “socialism and crapitalism” and then, after being admonished by House Speaker Steve Shurtleff, D-Penacook, Harrington went on to say, “If people believe in socialism, they say that people are too stupid …” Before he was against cut off by the speaker.

“I’m warning you,” said Shurtleff. “You should not cast aspersions on people in this body.”

“Outside this house,” said Harrington quickly, referring to people in the solar industry, “rather than advertising their services and compete, they pay lobbyists to try to force people to buy their product.”

Rep. Ken Wells, D-Andover, had a different slant. New Hampshire has fallen behind other states, he said. Even though New Hampshire’s usage has gone down, the percentage it uses of the electric grid, run by ISO-New England, has gone up. That’s because other states are converting to renewable energy at a much faster rate.

“Other states are pushing away from the ISO table, but it has the same fixed cost,” he said. Increasing solar will cut people’s bills, not increase them, he maintained.

Wells also disputed the amount of acreage involved, emphasizing that solar was not concentrated, like a nuclear power plant. The rooftop acres would be covered by all the mobile homes in the state, and that the ground-based solar would cover all the small ballparks in the state, he said.

The House passed SB 168, on a 217-139 vote Thursday, and since there were only minor changes from the Senate version, the bill is likely to head to the governor’s office for his signature. But the voting margins in both chambers fell short of numbers necessary to overcome a possible veto.

House Bill 365, the net metering bill Sununu vetoed on Tuesday, covered large-scale solar and renewable projects — though not the utility-scale solar projects that are now being proposed around the state. It would have increased project limits eligible for net metering from one megawatt to five megawatts. This would allow for much larger municipal, institutional and industrial solar projects to be eligible for metering credits.

In his veto message, Sununu said that other ratepayers would “subsidize” these projects by paying the generators of any surplus power – more than they would get if they operated like a power provider. But the NH Public Utilities Commission set that rate. And while the PUC said the rate needed to be fine-tuned with additional data, it also said that there was no evidence that at this point there was a subsidy.

Sununu vetoed a similar bill last year, and it was narrowly sustained. It is not clear when a vote on the HB 365 veto will be held.

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