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Federal Solar Policy Challenge From Group With N.H. Ties Draws National Attention

Annie Ropeik
NHPR file

A federal challenge to a policy that benefits solar energy – from a conservative lobbying firm with New Hampshire roots – is attracting attention from around the country.

The New England Ratepayers Association, or NERA, is based in Boston but active in Granite State politics. They formed in 2016 and do not disclose their membership.

The group has previously counted two of Gov. Chris Sununu's brothers as advisors and it has backed Sununu and large energy companies on state policy issues. Those have included Sununu's vetoes of proposed expansions to net metering – where energy customers make and sell their own power back to the grid.

At the larger scales that Sununu has blocked, net metering would help towns and businesses pay for larger solar arrays. Sununu and NERA argue this would raise costs for other ratepayers, especially low-income families and the elderly, though regulators say there’s not enough data to determine any impact.

Now, NERA is asking the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to essentially invalidate the legal basis for net metering nationwide.

They say net metering should be the purview of federal authorities, not states – and they argue it should be subject to a different pricing system to alleviate purported cost-shifting and comply with federal law.

“By overcompensating one of the least efficient forms of renewable generation [small-scale rooftop solar energy]," the petition argues, "[net metering] increases the cost to achieve any given level of renewable energy use and thus makes it less likely that society will be able to achieve whatever level of renewable energy goals is chosen.”

In an FAQ provided to NHPR, NERA compares this case to a challenge they won last year – against a New Hampshire law that sought to subsidize wood-fired power plants. There, as in their net metering petition, NERA argued that the law was improperly using a pricing mechanism reserved for federal jurisdiction.

In recent days, the net metering case has drawn national scrutiny and dozens of interveners – including state agencies, renewable energy groups, nonprofits, major utilities and regional transmission organizations. The Massachusetts Attorney General is also among the interveners.

(Click here and search here for docket EL20-42 to see all the filings in this case.)

No New Hampshire agencies have intervened in the docket yet, but they can do so until May 14. That’s also when public comment on the petition will close.

Annie has covered the environment, energy, climate change and the Seacoast region for NHPR since 2017. She leads the newsroom's climate reporting project, By Degrees.
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