NH House votes to boost RGGI fund for residential programs

But lawmakers vote to cut PUC authority over system benefits charge

The NH House not only rejected an attempt to gut New Hampshire’s participation in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, lawmakers actually voted to more than triple the amount of RGGI money going to residential energy-efficiency programs, with a special emphasis on low-income and municipal programs.

But they also voted, 173-171, to get control in the future over a much greater source of energy-efficiency funding: the system benefits charge.

The mixed result and close votes show that clean tech policy is tenuous in New Hampshire, which trails behind its neighbors in cutting back energy demand. Indeed, House Bill 559, the bill that increased RGGI energy-efficiency spending, only survived by a dozen votes and is headed to the House Finance Committee, meaning it will face another full House vote before it even gets to the Senate.

But for the moment, efficiency programs will get a major boost.

HB 317, which would require legislative approval to increase the system benefits charge in the future, pre-empted the Public Utilities Commission’s order to nearly double it so that the state would meet a new energy-efficiency resource standard. That move would amount to $30 million for 2018.

Supporters of the bill said that the charge amounts to a tax and that elected representatives should oversee the money, not the PUC. But opponents pointed out that this is a charge on a utility bill, not a tax bill, and the PUC sets every other portion of that bill, such as transmission or distribution rates.

“The transmission charges are allocated based on use, so as other states’ usage decreases, and ours increase, guess what? Our transmission costs will go up unless we become more efficient,” said John Mann, D-Alstead.

The question however, is that “who should grant that authority?” said Rep. Michael Voss, R-Epping.

The bill must still be approved by the Senate before it reaches Governor Sununu’s desk, but if it does, he would probably sign it, if his statement after the vote is any indication.

The bill, he said, “is in the best interest of the people and businesses of New Hampshire … and I hope the legislature continues to support policies aimed at easing the burden on New Hampshire’s overstrained ratepayers.”

RGGI distribution

But those who feared that lawmakers would use the authority it currently has to cut RGGI funding might take some comfort in the House’s next two votes.

RGGI is an eight-state program that requires power producers to pay for every ton of carbon emitted. The proceeds go back to the states, with the intention, but not the requirement, that they be spent on energy-efficiency programs.

That’s what New Hampshire did when it first joined RGGI in 2009, but since 2012, all but the first dollar spent on RGGI has been rebated to the customer.

The attempt to rebate all of that money (about $14 million estimated in 2018) to customers failed by 15 votes.

Instead, under HB 559, the money will be rebated to business customers (about $8.4 million this year) and not be used to fund energy-efficiency programs, and

35 percent of residential funds ($1.86 million) will be targeted for low-income energy-efficiency programs (which currently have a waiting list of 10,000) while the rest ($3.4 million) would go to municipal and local government programs.

The RGGI bill will “save costs for the entire state,” said Kate Epsen, executive director of the NH Sustainable Energy Association, but she didn’t think it was a win for business to get all the money rebated. “The bottom line is that businesses want to invest more in energy efficiency.”

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