NH House panel shelves long-term power deal legislation

Committee votes to retain measure that would have allowed Eversource deal with Hydro-Quebec

The House Science, Technology and Energy Committee voted overwhelmingly Tuesday to retain Senate Bill 128, a bill that would have enabled Eversource to purchase power for its New Hampshire customers over Northern Pass transmission lines.

The action puts off any chance of the Public Utilities Commission beginning consideration of a 20-year power purchase agreement (PPA) between Eversource and Hydro-Quebec to buy 100 megawatts of power dedicated to New Hampshire customers until the start of next year.

Eversource, which redacted terms of the contract, had argued that the agreement would have saved $100 million under most scenarios, but would have cost ratepayers more under one. But the PUC never got around to evaluating the economic benefits of the agreement because it ruled the deal violated both the state’s restructuring law and a recent agreement for Eversource to divest itself of its generating assets. The PPA was “essentially the same as Eversource owning an electric generating facility,” the PUC ruled.

SB 128, however, would alter that restructuring law, permitting the PUC to consider a PPA if it can be shown that it lowers electric costs and would “reasonably protect ratepayers from stranded costs,” and it would minimize any impact on the competitive market.

The bill does not specify the Eversource PPA with Hydro-Quebec and could apply to any utility or non-utility PPA for any energy source, including wind and solar, but not gas, which was stripped of the bill, partly to mollify those who oppose gas pipelines going through their districts.

But that also turned off some supporters in the NH House, including Rep. Michael Vose, R-Epping, the only person who spoke before the committee, which voted 20-1 to retain the bill.

“The fact that it doesn’t include gas is a huge issue. I’d like to think about creative ways to make this better,” Voss said. He also said he was influenced by the PUC’s concern that it would disrupt auctioning off Eversource’s assets.

PUC officials also urged that the restructuring process be completed before lawmakers start tinkering with state law, but the Consumer Advocate’s office favored the bill, arguing that it would rightly give the PUC more power to determine what would lower electric rates.

But the Consumer Advocate’s did say it should be amended to require that the terms of such long-term contracts be disclosed to the public.

Other committee members, including like Rep. Bob Backus, D- Manchester, had previously expressed that the bill would allow the utility to do an end run around restructuring. Backus told NH Business Review that he argued to kill the bill, but said that perhaps retaining the measure was best, since it couldn’t be reversed on the House floor.

The Sierra Club, however, wanted to kill the bill, saying it might leave ratepayers on the hook for any large energy project.

Eversource emphasized that the PPA was not a requirement for state siting approval of Northern Pass, but said would still benefit from the deal, with $600 million of lower energy costs apart for the PPA over the course of a decade.

That doesn’t includes taxes, jobs and other benefits, it said.

“We understand the importance of considering this proposed legislation carefully,” said Bill Quinlan, president of New Hampshire operations at Eversource in a statement. “We are committed to continuing to work intently with the NH Legislature, the PUC and other parties to identify solutions for delivering much-needed energy rate relief for our customers.”

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