NH clean tech ‘confusion’ debated at Energy Summit

Conflicting legislative initiatives faulted by industry

Clean tech energy advocates – worried about the effect a cantankerous legislative process was having on the burgeoning technology in New Hampshire – may have been somewhat relieved by NH Sen. Jeb Bradley’s words at this year’s NH Energy Summit in Concord.

“I am ready for a bit of a break on energy this year,” he said at the Tuesday gathering.

Bradley was responding to an oft-stated complaint of the New Hampshire Clean Tech Council that nearly every session lawmakers are substantially changing, and threatening to eliminate, renewable energy and energy-efficiency standards and incentives.

“Confusion is a huge piece of the problem,” said Michael Behrmann, director of the Clean Tech Council. “Investors have long-term goals and policy interrupts these goals. People want to have the option to generate their own energy. Precluding them from doing so does not attract to the state the people we would like to see.”

That is why New Hampshire is an “outlier” compared to other New England states when it comes to the use of renewable energy, he said. It was a complaint echoed by Dan Weeks, director of market development at ReVision Energy, who noted that solar accounted for 0.4 percent of New Hampshire’s energy, while in Massachusetts it is 8 percent.

But Bradley stood his ground. He noted that state has made progress on renewable energy with the passage of his bill – Senate Bill 129, which increased the standards for solar and upped the payments for wood-fired energy.

Yes there were legislative proposals to do away with renewable portfolio standards as well as the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, but the changes ended up strengthening support, he said. And then there was the Public Utilities Commission’s order on energy-efficiency resource standards, which would increase the system benefits charge on electric bills to raise funds for conservation programs.

“Net metering is entrenched, RPS is entrenched, energy-efficiency is entrenched,” said Bradley. “The cleaner technology energy is here to stay, though it may not grow as fast as other states.”

But then he added, “We took a big step. Sometimes you have to digest to move forward. It is important not to overreach with the [electricity] price pressure that we have.”

Scuffling on standards

As if on cue, that afternoon lawmakers – several of whom had attended the summit – met that afternoon to consider freezing the Class I renewable energy standards at 6 percent. Class I, which encompasses almost all renewable energy aside from solar (wind, tidal, biomass, methane), was supposed to go up by 0.9 percent a year to 15 percent by 2025. Indeed, the state had already met the 6.9 percent standard for 2016.

Rep. Hebert Vadney, R-Meredith, chair of the House on Science, Technology and Energy subcommittee said it really comes down to a matter of religion. On one side, there are those “who believe that renewable agency would save the world” and are the other side are those who “believe that top-down subsidy programs distort the free market,” but its advocates “would tend to extend them and double down rather than admit failure.”

Several state officials attempted to interject some facts into the discussion.

Karen P. Cramton, director of the PUC’s Sustainable Energy Division, said that the average cost to ratepayers is less than $2 a month, and Michael Fitzgerald, assistant director of the Department of Environmental Services’ Air Resources Division noted that the benefits of renewable and efficiency programs for instance could shave $20 million off ratepayer’s transmission costs.

Rep. Marjorie Shepardson, D-Marlborough, was one of several lawmakers who echoed concerns of the clean tech industry.

“Business want predictability. We were encouraging it [renewable energy], but then we would be taking it away.”

When one lawmaker said that those who invested hundreds of thousands of dollars based on the state’s standards might have some claim on the state, Vadney dismissed it.

“Tough bananas,” he said.

In the end, the subcommittee voted to kill the bill 3-2, but it still must go before the full committee and the full House.

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