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A N.H. legislative commission studying small-scale electricity producers explores potential energy savings

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A New Hampshire legislative commission met on Tuesday to discuss if small-scale energy producers could benefit from savings generated by creating energy closer to where it is consumed.

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The commission is studying legislation applying to projects producing up to five megawatts of energy and are not participating in net metering or selling their power in the ISO-New England market.

For example, a small solar array that could sell power directly to a business or a university could be affected by these laws.

Legislators are studying the possibility of calculating the costs that these small-scale energy producers might save by avoiding the transmission system, a network of power lines for the long-distance transportation of energy.

Transmission lines are expensive to maintain. Between 2002 and 2016, New England transmission projects cost more than $12 billion, according to a report from the Acadia Center, a non-profit focused on advancing clean energy. One way to avoid the cost of transmission lines is to rely on local energy production.

Some say that allowing small-scale producers to benefit from the transmission costs they save might make the development of distributed generation more financially viable in New Hampshire.

Donna Gamache, an Eversource representative, attended the committee meeting. She said the issue was “exceedingly complicated.”

She said it’s possible to save money on transmission. But calculating the costs saved by avoiding transmission is difficult, but can be done if the company adds more meters to measure the impact.

Gamache said that giving credit for avoiding transmission costs to generators would mean that customers wouldn’t receive the benefits of the savings. Eversource is concerned that creating a credit for small-scale generators might artificially keep rates higher for their customers, she said.

State Senator David Watters asked whether it was a Catch-22, with one group responsible for creating savings but all ratepayers hoping to benefit from them.

Gamache said it was up to legislators to decide on the issue of managing savings.

Clifton Below, assistant mayor of Lebanon and vice-chair of the Community Power Coalition of New Hampshire, also spoke to legislators about how they might calculate the value of distributed generation.

Below said that there is wide recognition that efforts like energy efficiency, demand response programs, and energy storage are valuable tools to avoid the high costs of generation and transmission, but there seems to be a resistance to the idea that distributed generation could do the same thing by meeting the demand for energy locally.

He said in an interview with NHPR that the commission’s work could create new opportunities for small-scale power generation in communities across New Hampshire.

“A lot of us see that as an important opportunity that’s going to help us get to a cleaner, more efficient electric grid in the future,” he said.

ISO New England, which manages the energy grid for New England, said it was their policy to not provide testimony in person at the moment, but would answer written questions or provide virtual testimony for the commission.

The commission has until November 1st to prepare a report on its findings. They will meet again on October 19.