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New Hampshire House committee votes on energy efficiency and greenhouse gas emissions reductions

Ali Oshinskie for NHPR

The New Hampshire House of Representatives Science, Technology and Energy Committee voted on Tuesday in favor of recommending a bill that would limit increases to the system benefits charge, which helps fund energy efficiency efforts in the state.

In the Public Utilities Commission’s stalled triennial energy efficiency plan, the charge would have increased more than it could under the bill, HB 549, if passed, according to the bill’s primary sponsor, Republican Rep. Michael Vose.

Rep. Vose said the decision about the system benefits charge should be made in the legislature, because the charge “functions as a tax.”

His bill would set the energy efficiency portion of the system benefits charge at 2020 levels, and allow it to be increased by the three-year average of the Consumer Price Index, plus 0.25%. He estimates that the charge would go up $10 million to $20 million dollars per year under his bill, while the triennial plan would increase it $80 million to $100 million per year.

Vose says the legislation will limit the impact of the charge on businesses, and on low and moderate-income ratepayers, who pay a larger proportion of their income for energy.

The current system benefits charge costs the average residential Eversource customer around $4.80 per month.

Democratic Representative Lee Oxenham opposed the bill. She said the state should be investing as much as possible in energy efficiency programs that help reduce fossil fuel use and costs.

In the legislative proceedings, she said that lawmakers were subverting the work of the Public Utilities Commission, calling the situation “unprecedented.”

“I want to protest the fact that we have taken this unprecedented course of subverting a PUC process while it is underway,” Oxenham said. “This is not a process that I’ve ever seen in any committee of this legislature.”

Vose was part of a group of lawmakers who sent a letter to the Public Utilities Commission last year, encouraging the group not to move forward with the triennial plan.

Opponents also noted that the majority of people who commented during the bill’s public hearing were in opposition to the bill.

The committee also voted not to recommend HB 172, which would have created greenhouse gas emissions reduction goals in the state, including reaching net-zero emissions by 2050.

Representative Vose, the chair of the committee, opposed the bill, saying there was not enough scientific agreement on the impact of greenhouse gases to move the bill forward.

“That’s hotly debated, and there is recent evidence to show that climate sensitivity is not very well understood by the scientific community,” he said.

The scientific community is in near-universal agreement that greenhouse gases emitted by human activities are the primary cause of climate change.

Representative Jose Cambrils also opposed the bill to limit emissions. He expressed concern about the cost of emissions reduction relative to New Hampshire’s role in producing greenhouse gas emissions.

Some who supported the bill said that inaction on climate change also carries a cost, that states around New Hampshire are taking active steps on their emissions targets, and that the state needs to act.

Representative John Mann, who supported the bill, said that the issue was personal to him.

“I’m a grandparent and I take this personally,” Mann said. “My kids, and your kids, if you have any, have to live in the future.”

Mara Hoplamazian reports on climate change, energy, and the environment for NHPR.

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