Why is our ‘business-friendly’ governor insulting our business?

Governing by insult is not the New Hampshire way

When Gov. Chris Sununu was first elected in 2016, the former Waterville Valley CEO promised to bring a business-friendly culture to state government.

Declaring “New Hampshire is open for business,” the governor focused his inaugural speech on impediments to private-sector growth, including workforce development, education and the rising cost of health care and energy. As the largest solar company in New Hampshire, we are intimately familiar with each of these concerns and had high hopes the governor would work with us in our mission to lower energy costs while adding dozens of good-paying jobs through our electrical apprenticeship program. We were unable to secure a meeting with him during his first term.

When he won re-election in 2018, he reiterated his promise of business-friendly collaboration and called on state leaders to “embrace a spirit of cooperation and work together to get things done for the people of New Hampshire.” We could not agree more with his sentiment and renewed our request to meet, but were never granted a meeting.

Last week, Governor Sununu signed a proclamation recognizing Clean Energy in September, stating “clean energy is an important part of New Hampshire’s energy future” and that the clean energy sector has been a “driver of economic growth” for the state in recent years.

Against this hopeful backdrop, we were disappointed to see his veto of a slew of clean energy bills this summer, which passed with strong bipartisan majorities and overwhelming public support. What’s more, we were shocked to hear the governor repeatedly attack our industry and insult our employee-owned business by name at a recent Chamber of Commerce event, for reasons we have yet to learn.

We wish to respond to the governor’s vetoes and unsubstantiated attacks in hopes that he will reconsider his position or let us know where we have gone wrong. We also wish to renew our invitation that he visit our Brentwood headquarters near his home to witness the clean energy revolution that is already saving NH businesses, nonprofits, and families millions of dollars annually while cutting carbon pollution and protecting public health.

We begin with legislation. Although the list of vetoes is long, two bills are worth highlighting for their demonstrated potential to lower energy costs and bolster our local economy.

House Bill 365, which passed unanimously in the Senate and received 70% approval in the House, would raise the arbitrary net metering cap for local clean energy projects to 5 megawatts, allowing towns to offset their electricity needs with existing hydro dams or convert old landfills into solar farms. Contrary to Governor Sununu’s repeated claims of a “subsidy” or “cost shift” resulting from large customer-generators being paid “full retail rates,” the law explicitly prevents such reimbursement by denying generators any of the transmission, distribution, systems benefit or other charges that make up around 50% of actual retail rates.

Simply put, under HB 365 electric utilities would buy power from a solar farm for the supply-only rate of around 10 cents per kWh and immediately sell it to nearby homes and businesses for as much as 20 cents per kWh, just as they do today. What’s more, any upgrades to utility infrastructure would continue to be paid by the solar array owner, even though the benefits of expanded capacity accrue to local businesses and the community at large.

Another vetoed bill, Senate Bill 168, would unleash billions of dollars worth of private investment in local clean energy projects by ratcheting up New Hampshire’s 0.7% Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) for solar to 5.4% by 2025. Although the proposed goal is still far below neighboring states, raising the RPS would amount to declaring New Hampshire open for solar business while also offsetting over 500,000 metric tons of carbon pollution per year, the equivalent of taking 120,000 cars off the road. Recent surveys show 85% of registered voters support requiring utilities to source electricity from 100% clean energy by 2050.

By comparison, Massachusetts recently hit 10% solar thanks to a more aggressive RPS, representing $6.5 billion in private investment and 10,210 direct solar industry jobs.

Its solar fleet also saved New England ratepayers an estimated $9.3 million during a single week-long heat wave by providing abundant, low-cost electricity when it was needed most instead of relying on expensive fossil fuel generators to meet peak demand. It was just one example in a growing body of research by state Public Utilities Commissions (PUC) and other independent analysts, which finds that solar reduces peak demand and saves all ratepayers money. New Hampshire’s own PUC has found no evidence of a cost-shift from solar.

Although Governor Sununu has failed to back up his repeated “cost-shift” claims or engage in a substantive debate on these and other important pieces of legislation, he has not held back on attacking the clean energy industry as “crony capitalism at its worst” and singling out our employee-owned company as “greedy.”

When challenged in June on his vetoes by local officials at the Greater Dover Chamber of Commerce, the governor went out of his way to accuse “the ReVisions and these big monster companies” of preventing progress on clean energy. “The problem is all the big solar companies, the ReVision Energies of the world, want to force us to use the retail rate because they’re going to make millions,” he said, adding three times, “It’s pure greed!”

If he believes that greed is what motivates our 260 employee-owners, including numerous engineers and electricians, it’s time he paid us a visit and learned what makes us tick as a certified Benefit Corporation. We hope he will also tour one of our solar-powered soup kitchens or mobile home parks to see just how hard we are working to extend the benefits of solar to people most in need of energy savings.

Finally, we cannot ignore the irony of Governor Sununu accusing the solar industry of “crony capitalism at its worst” when the “solar lobby” accounts for a tiny fraction of the hundreds of millions of dollars spent annually by fossil fuel companies to lobby and fund campaigns in the United States, including his own. The results of that lobby are reflected in the more than $20 billion per year fossil fuel companies receive in permanent taxpayer subsidies and the $649 billion they impose on society in negative externality costs, according to the IMF – far more than the time-limited subsidies for renewable energy.

Governing by insult is not the New Hampshire way. Nor is it consistent with our state’s values to repeatedly ignore the will of the legislature by vetoing numerous bills that passed with bipartisan support and are strongly favored by voters. If we have offended the governor by pointing out when his rhetoric does not match reality, we hope he will convey his concerns directly to us and collaborate on building the clean energy future our citizens deserve.

Clean energy is not a partisan issue. It’s time for all our elected officials to listen to their constituents and take action on the facts, moving our state to a more distributed and diversified energy generation mix. When we do, we will see more local jobs, more dollars staying within our communities, and a reduction in costs for all ratepayers. When state legislators show up in Concord for the veto override days, they should not listen to the false rhetoric from a few who happen to have an audience, but represent their constituents who will thank them for acting in the short and long term benefit of all NH stakeholders.

Dan Clapp is co-founder of ReVision Energy Inc.

Categories: Energy and Environment, Government, Opinion