NH House-Senate conferees OK RGGI rebate changes

But gubernatorial veto may loom despite compromise

Business ratepayers will get a full Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative rebate, but residents will give up their partial rebates to fund energy efficiency, under a bill agreed by Tuesday by a New Hampshire Senate and House conference committee. That’s if this compromise isn’t vetoed by Gov. Chris Sununu – and that’s a big if.

House Bill 582 is one several energy bills that emphasize energy efficiency and renewables. Supporters say that such policies are not only environmentally correct, but would drive costs down by cutting down on generation and transmission costs. But to implement them, ratepayers often have to pay more in their energy costs.

“It’s all a question of what is driving up energy prices,” said Sen. Martha Fuller Clark, D-Portsmouth.

Last week lawmakers passed:

  • SB 165, known as the Low-Income Community Solar Act of 2019, which would require two low-income net metering solar projects in each utility service area, with more favorable metering terms. This is a bill that Sununu’s representatives said he agreed with.
  • SB 168, which would increase the solar renewable portfolio standard from .07 to 1.9 percent in 2020 to 5.4 percent in 2025.
  • House Bill 183, which would have utilities charge ratepayers a little extra to help keep six wood-burning power plants afloat.

All these were approved after Sununu’s June 3 veto of House Bill 365, which would increase the maximum project for net metering from 1 to 5 megawatts, allowing larger businesses and institutions to take advantage of the law. It would also account for the energy generated as a load reduction, which should help reduce the state’s peak usage.

HB 183 is likely to be vetoed as well, since it is an attempt to overcome a court challenge to a bill that passed last year to help the biomass plant over Sununu’s veto.

Such vetoes were on the mind of House and Senate conferees as they tried to iron out difference between their two chambers over the state’s participation in RGGI, a nine-state program in which utilities bid for the right to emit carbon into the atmosphere. States are free to do what they want with the proceeds of the auction, and nearly all use nearly all of it for energy-efficiency programs. New Hampshire used to do the same, but in 2012, New Hampshire began rebating all but the first dollar (about three-quarters of the total) back to ratepayers.

The Senate initially passed a bill that would put all that money into energy efficiency, but the House retained it, instead offering HB 183, which would expand the rebate for commercial customers but end it totally for residential customers. That would mean about $3 million a year going to energy-efficiency programs.

The idea is that this would help industry remain competitive, but help the state remain competitive in its energy-efficiency rate, which in turn is a factor in how much the state has to pay to use the regional electric grid.

The Senate went a step further in an attempt to appease the governor by deleting a statement of purpose on climate change being a “a significant environmental problem posing an unacceptable risk to humankind, and that carbon dioxide is a significant greenhouse gas that contributes to this climate change.”

Clark said she agreed with the statement, but it was a “red herring” that would “only make it more difficult” for the bill to pass.

Rep. Bob Backus, D-Manchester, said he understood that the governor agreed that man-made climate change was a problem, but the House agreed to go along with the Senate changes. Sen. Jeb Bradley, R-Wolfeboro said conferees weren’t compromising enough. He wanted to keep the partial rebate for residential customers.

Ending that rebate, Bradley said, would be “problematic” in getting the bill signed. “I can’t guarantee what the governor will do one way or the other. I don’t know. I’m surmising, but it is a pretty educated guess, given what happened in net metering.”

In the end, the Senate said it would replace Bradley on the conference, so it can get the unanimous consent necessary for conferees to present the agreement to lawmakers, which still must approve it to pass the bill to the governor.

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