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Gov. Sununu Signs Net Energy Metering Expansion For Towns, Breaking Three-Year Logjam

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Gov. Sununu and other community leaders pose during the signing of the net metering bill.

After three years of political gridlock, Gov. Chris Sununu signed a bill Thursday that will let cities and towns produce more of their own renewable energy.

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“We’re an environmentally driven state,” Sununu said during a ceremony beside a small solar array at the Derry transfer station. “We need clean energy, we need renewable projects, and we do them a little bit different here and a heck of a lot better.”

The bill raises the limit for municipalities on what’s known as net metering, allowing towns to now generate up to five megawatts of their own power, typically with solar and hydro, in order to lower their energy costs and pass savings on to residents.

The previous cap was one megawatt, which is still in place for businesses and residents.

“It’s about incremental progress in New Hampshire, and we’ve achieved that today,” said Kelly Buchanan, director of regulatory affairs for the advocacy group Clean Energy New Hampshire. “It might seem like a small win for a lot of clean energy advocates, but this is the first step.”

She attended the bill signing in Derry, where officials say the net metering expansion will help them build more solar to reach a goal of net zero energy use and production by 2025.

Derry, Concord and other communities are planning larger solar arrays on old landfills and other sites.

“This is one of those times where you feel like you can put your shoulder to the plow with lots of other communities and I think maybe move the needle,” said Hanover town manager Julia Griffin in an interview with NHPR after the bill signing was announced.

Hanover had hoped to build a 1.3-megawatt solar array to offset nearly half of their municipal energy use, Griffin said, but had to break it up into smaller projects under the previous one-megawatt cap.

“The larger you can make your array and net meter, the less expensive [per] kilowatt hour it is to construct that array if you can put it in one setting, than if you’re building it out across multiple sites or buildings,” Griffin said.

Hanover is also one of a growing number of New Hampshire towns that have adopted community power programs, where they can choose to use more renewable energy, aggregate their supply and provide potential cost savings directly to residents. Utilities still distribute that energy to residents and businesses.

The net metering expansion was attached to House Bill 315, which sets more specific parameters for community power programs. Sununu also on Thursday signed Senate Bill 91, an omnibus bill that includes details about net metering, energy storage and other renewable issues.

“It shows that energy policy can be crafted in a careful and deliberate way that does not hurt ratepayers, does not put our grid at risk,” said Rep. Michael Vose, an Epping Republican who co-sponsored HB 315 and chairs the House Science, Technology and Energy Committee.

Sununu said the net metering proposal's narrow focus on municipalities set it apart from past attempts at compromise, which he vetoed or which were blocked in the Legislature.

He said this reform will benefit taxpayers by helping towns save money, offsetting the costs that he and other Republican lawmakers have argued can be shifted to ratepayers through net metering. Advocates for the policy have disputed that concern.

"But we need the environmental wins as well, and the overall environmental benefit to reduce our dependence on those fossil fuels,” Sununu said. “Slowly but surely, we are really getting there."

New Hampshire has the lowest and shortest-term renewable energy use goals in New England, and does not have a statutory goal for reducing the carbon emissions that drive climate change.

Solar developers, in the past, have called the state’s low net metering cap a deterrent to business growth. Now, clean energy supporters, like Concord city councilor Rob Werner, who also leads the League of Conservation Voters in New Hampshire, expect that will change.

“I think there’s a lot of companies that are really interested, have been waiting, like, peering over the border - ‘what’s going on there? Oh, OK, let’s get in,’” Werner said. “Because we’ll put out a [request for solar proposals] fairly soon [in Concord] as will many other communities. So I think it’s really terrific.”

NHPR’s Daniela Allee contributed reporting to this story.