New Hampshire Senate digs deep into renewable energy policy

Several bills seek to encourage generation, efficiency

There are other ways besides net metering to facilitate large-scale renewable and energy-efficiency projects, and several bills were introduced in the Senate Tuesday to make them more viable options for businesses and municipalities.

Among them:

  • Allowing power generators to sell directly to consumers.
  • Trying to come up with a billing system so that large third-party suppliers would be able to sell to “municipal aggregates” of electrical utility customers.
  • Making sure that low-income residents benefit from community solar projects
  • Adjusting the way utilities are reimbursed so they would be rewarded for saving energy, not just selling it.
  • Making it easier to install energy storage battery systems in front of and behind the meter.

One of the bills, Senate Bill 518, sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Dan Feltes, D-Concord, is kind of a hodgepodge of energy policies, touching on three of the five goals.

“It is an interesting and complex bill,” commented Karen Cramton, director of the Public Utilities Commission’s Sustainable Energy Division.

Net metering is a way for those producing electricity to sell any excess power back to a utility, but it is limited to systems of less than 1 megawatt. Lawmakers have tried to expand that to 5 megawatts, but Gov. Chris Sununu has repeatedly vetoed such efforts, arguing that the rate set for a utility to buy that power (set by the PUC) subsidizes the owner of a renewable energy system at the expense of other ratepayers.

But a new category of “limited producers” of energy (less than 5 megawatts) would have longer sell excess energy to the utility, but could just sell it to the household or business down the street or anywhere in the utility’s service area.

“It removes the barriers to choice in energy,” said Clifton Below, Lebanon’s assistant mayor. “We have a gap from one to five megawatts. Avoiding distribution to the system has more value for utilities then selling it wholesale.”

But Eversource opposed the bill because “we have some very large concerns over very complex billing and metering requirements.”

Municipal aggregation

The municipal aggregation section of Feltes’ bill echoes a similar proposal in SB 463, sponsored by Sen. Harold French, R-Franklin, who said there is a lot of “genuine excitement” such aggregation. That’s when a community of residents purchases electricity as a group, at a lower price, from a third party.

The problem is what happens when a customer doesn’t pay the bill. Under the current system, the money first goes to the utility, which is in the best position to collect, since it has the ability to cut off power. That leaves the third party with less or nothing at all, so it may not participate.

French and Feltes’ proposal would change the order of who gets paid first. Other solutions would kick the delinquent out of the aggregate an back to the utility.

Last year, there was bipartisan backing for a bill that would allow utilities to set up two low-to-moderate income community solar projects and pay for two years an extra 3 cents per kilowatt-hour for the energy produced, in addition to the usual net metering rates. The compromise would cut that add-on to 2.5 cents after July 1, 2022.

Feltes’ concern is that the “adder” might be swallowed up the developers of the project and not getting to the people it was supposed to help. So his bill ensures that at least half of it benefits the residents. The bill also spells out what kind of low-income community can qualify, to make sure public housing projects and manufacturing housing parks are included.

Cramton testified that the PUC was coming up with a rule that would guarantee that low-income rate payers get 12% of the whole tariff, which comes out to 50% of the adder – the same result but less hassle for the utility.

Energy storage

SB 499, introduced by Sen. Martha fuller Clark, D-Portsmouth, is perhaps the most far-reaching bill, since it changes the very way utilities would earn their money.

Instead of being paid a set rate related to their investment in the system, they would also be rewarded, or penalized, for such things as volatility and affordability of electric rates, reliability of service, customer satisfaction, transparency of a customer’s energy use and integration of renewable energy sources.

Liberty Utility was on board.

“We support the concept of performance-based ratemaking,” said Huck Montgomery, the utility’s lobbyist, though he added that there are a lot of details to work out. “It’s a good starting point. There is a kernel of a great idea here.”

SB 498, also introduced by Clark, may be the most important energy storage bill of the session, winning support from both Liberty and the trade group Clean Energy NH.

The bill would require the PUC to promulgate rules on behind-the-meter energy storage, favoring bring-your-own devices, though it does allow for a pilot program Liberty Utility is involved in. That program has been held up three years by a cumbersome PUC process.

“At times the energy policy has been lacking,” said Madeleine Mineau, executive director of Clean Energy NH. “This will help the review and approval process go forward with more efficiency.”

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