Energy Veto Debates Still Dominate Annual Policy Summit

Sep 24, 2018

Governor Chris Sununu speaks to lawmakers and members of the state's energy industry at an annual summit in Concord.
Credit Annie Ropeik / NHPR

Members of New Hampshire's energy industry joined lawmakers Monday at the state’s annual energy summit, which helps set priorities for next year's legislative session.

They debated the policies – and politics – that could help lower the region’s high electric costs, diversify and stabilize fuel supplies, and reduce reliance on imported fossil fuels.

Governor Chris Sununu and Democratic rival Molly Kelly presented contrasting ideas on those issues at the start of the summit.  

Sununu told a room packed with people who work in the energy industry that the way to lower rates long-term is to allow more energy infrastructure, and eliminate mandates designed to boost electric production from certain sources.

"Are we really going to say, ‘I believe in lower energy rates,’ and then constantly support bills that raise them?” Sununu said. “Are we really going to play that game?”

He was referring to bills he vetoed this year. Lawmakers upheld one veto, of a bill that aimed to lift the cap on group net metering, but overturned another veto, of a bill requiring utilities to buy more electricity from the state’s wood-burning power plants.

Molly Kelly said both Sununu vetoes aimed to make it harder for power to be produced locally, and told the crowd that plays into the hands of large utilities.

"This justifies more transmission projects, which provide a higher rate of return,” Kelly said. “Instead, let’s use our local renewable energy locally."

The lawmakers and lobbyists in the room also heard the latest on electric restructuring, gas pipeline development, home energy battery storage, solar power and energy efficiency funding.

Those issues could come up at the statehouse next year. But lawmakers, too, seemed most focused on their biomass and net metering debates from this summer.

Asked if he thinks lawmakers will revisit those issues in 2019, Republican state Rep. Michael Vose said, “I would say that’s a definite yes.”

Vose was against the biomass subsidy lawmakers approved this month. Meanwhile, Democratic state Rep. Jacqueline Cali-Pitts wants to see the net metering bill revived.

She sits with Vose on the House Energy committee, and says progress on renewable power – including innovations like battery storage – will depend on the party in control after November’s election.