NH House panel reaches compromise on renewable energy standard

Feltes-Sununu deal finds bipartisan support

Lawmakers in the New Hampshire House voted Tuesday in favor of a rare bipartisan compromise on a renewable energy bill, after their partisan debate sank to the level of a 4th-grade elementary school class. Literally.

The House Science and Technology Committee voted on Senate Bill 165, which would authorize the state’s three electric utilities to set up two group net metering projects for low-income communities, they tried to iron out the difference between bills that increased the state’s renewable portfolio standard. One bill, SB 168, would have increased solar standards by 2025. A second, SB 124, would increase standards by 2040, so that the entire renewable goals would go up from 25 percent to 60 percent.

But before the vote, about 20 4th-graders from Sant Bani School in Sanbornton entered the room.

Committee Chairman Rep. Bob Backus, D-Manchester, tried to explain to the youngsters that the committee would be discussing renewable energy goals for the state. But lawmakers then took the opportunity to put their own spin on matter.

“They aren’t goals, they are mandates,” thundered Rep. Michael Harrington, R-Strafford. He said lawmakers think that the “people of New Hampshire are too dumb” to make their own choices about electricity. “You can’t buy Coke. You have to buy Pepsi.”

Rep. Jacqueline Cali-Pitts, D-Portsmouth, put it another way. “We want something really bad, like renewable energy. It’s like you really want to go to Disney World so bad, but the question is, what is the best way to pay for it?”

The actual question is how quickly the solar standard –currently at 0.7 percent – should increase. The state has already met that “pathetic” standard for fuel that is “forever free,” said Rep. Peter Somssich, D-Portsmouth.

Under SB 124, the RPS would stay flat until 2025 and then go up to 18.9 percent by 2040. Under SB 168, it would go up starting this year and to 5.4 percent by 2025, staying at that level onward.

But that question was put off, as Backus latched on to a suggestion to try to appoint a subcommittee to try to merge the bills by next week.

After the kids left, the committee agreed to an amendment to SB 165 negotiated by Sen. Dan Feltes, D-Concord, and Gov. Chris Sununu. The bill would “authorize” (as opposed to require) that utilities set up two low-to-moderate income community solar projects and pay for two years an extra 3 cents a 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.

The committee – without debating the matter for the future generation – agreed to the amendment, 18-1, but when it came to the bill, it split along party lines, approving the it, 12-7.

But since it has the support of the governor, this is one renewable energy bill that is likely to become law.

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