With energy prices rising, Sununu proposes $60 million energy relief program

Governor proposes $100 payments to New Hampshire families to defray costs

Energy EfficiencyGov. Chris Sununu announced a plan to tackle rapidly increasing energy costs Wednesday, following announcements from two of the state’s major utilities they would increase rates by about 50 percent this fall.

The governor proposed spending $60 million from the state surplus on one-time payments of $100 to people across the state to defray the exceptionally high cost of energy. That spending requires approval by the Legislature, a step Sununu said he believes would happen by the time ratepayers start feeling the effect of higher rates.

Clean energy advocates criticized this approach, saying it ignores the underlying problem – the region’s dependence on natural gas, the fossil fuel driving high electricity costs.

Both the Senate president and speaker of the House, who flanked the governor Wednesday, indicated support for the plan, which would position it for success in securing approval from the full Legislature.

A typical household could see their monthly electric bill increase by about $70, totaling around $420 over the six-month period the higher rates would be in effect. Liberty Utilities’ proposal was approved Monday, while approval of Eversource’s proposal is still pending.

The new plan also adds funding to existing assistance programs for both home heating and electricity, but it does not expand eligibility. People who earn 60 percent of the state median income are eligible for those programs. For a single adult, that is less than $37,696 a year. For a family of four, the annual income would be $72,493.

Sununu’s plan would add an additional $7 million from the state surplus to the electric assistance program. And it would roll over $7.5 million from the state’s fuel assistance program, called LIHEAP, that wasn’t spent last winter. Those federal funds were secured by the state’s congressional delegation in anticipation of an expensive winter heating season. Next winter, Sununu said the fuel assistance program would open a month early, starting in November.

The governor blamed the Biden administration for high energy costs Wednesday, pointing to its  decision to deny the Keystone pipeline. According to energy experts, the high cost of electricity is driven by how expensive natural gas has become in the global market. New Hampshire is reliant on natural gas for both home power and heating, leaving the region exposed to fluctuations in the global market.

Sam Evans Brown, executive director of Clean Energy NH, said the $60 million would be better invested in energy efficiency, which can lower demand and energy costs.

“Investing this money in efficiency work would result in a 3x payback versus just literally throwing it into the natural gas furnace to be lit on fire,” he said in a tweet Wednesday.

It remains to be seen whether the cost of natural gas will decrease in the coming months.

Categories: Energy and Environment, Government, News