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NH News

Stalled N.H. energy program leaves businesses, homeowners hanging in limbo

Power utility lines
Dan Tuohy
/
NHPR
Power grid: Utility lines

Energy efficiency businesses are in a tough spot. It’s been nearly a year since state energy regulators failed to move forward on a three year energy efficiency plan.

These three year plans provide funding for efficiency upgrades and weatherization. But without one in place, energy auditors and homeowners looking to weatherize are in limbo.

NHPR’s Morning Edition host Rick Ganley spoke with Michael Turcotte, owner of the energy auditing and construction company, Turn Cycle Solutions.

Takeaways

  • The NHSaves program provides incentives, like rebates, for people to make upgrades to their homes to improve energy efficiency. 
  • As the cost of natural gas and electric rates climb, weatherizing homes could help people save money in the long run.
  • Businesses and qualified customers are ready to move forward with the NHSaves program, but aren’t able to until state officials approve the budget for the program.
  • Some businesses that have pivoted to provide services because of the NHSaves program are struggling and could continue to struggle if the program doesn’t move forward.

Rick Ganley: You know, this delay has caused some utilities, companies and businesses to turn customers away. How has it affected your business?

Michael Turcotte: So as a construction company that is a provider in the NHSaves program, we have been without a budget for roughly 10 months at this point. We have probably 40 clients that are just parked waiting for some type of information to come back to them. These are qualified customers, constituents of New Hampshire that are ready, willing, able to move forward within the NHSaves program, but are unable to due to no movement as far as this budget being approved.

Rick Ganley: And what are you hearing from other businesses in the industry?

Michael Turcotte: Our colleagues in the NHSaves arena are struggling dramatically. We are too, but we have the ability to be a little bit flexible. My colleagues in this profession as well are struggling because they are landlocked. There is no movement as far as budgets, so we can't provide any rebates with the NHSaves program to then move the process forward from there.

Rick Ganley: So what does this mean for people who are looking to weatherize their homes? They're looking to maybe decrease energy bills. They want to be more climate conscious. What does it mean for homeowners across the state who want this work done on their homes?

Michael Turcotte: Obviously, they have the opportunity to do it directly with a provider like Turn Cycle Solutions or one of my colleagues within the NHSaves marketplace. But these programs provide great incentives. They provide a faster return on investment for the client. And in fact, they've paid into this system benefit charge that they're entitled to get these rebates for, candidly.

Rick Ganley: So they are just not able to access money that they should be able to reach?

Michael Turcotte: Yes, exactly right.

Rick Ganley: All electric consumers in New Hampshire pay what's known as a systems benefit charge on their bill. This stalled plan would increase that charge by 80 cents each month, but there's been pushback from Republicans who say they see this as a tax on consumers. Can you talk us through what the proposed increase actually means?

Michael Turcotte: So the proposed increase through the tri annual budget that has been stalled at the Public Utilities Commission, the Department of Energy, would increase the available funding to the NHSaves programs, and commercial programs and industrial programs like it substantially. New Hampshire has a specific carbon footprint decrease that they're looking to meet. The global cost of energy, as far as natural gas and electric, is going up on a large scale. If you're a Unitil customer, you would know. In that regard, these programs, if they're not funded to the full capacity, will only cost the consumer more money. So these programs help with reducing not only the energy footprint of the community, but additional infrastructure that could be needed to be built as well.

Rick Ganley: Well, what worries you if this issue continues?

Michael Turcotte: It will kill that division of our company, because we're so embedded in that community, or we would have to do a very large pivot and go into a new construction market or some other. We employ roughly 10 insulators in an effort to be ready for these budget increases. We staffed up, we bought equipment, we bought an additional couple of trucks in anticipation of this, and we've been kind of left in the valance waiting.

Rick Ganley: As you said earlier, there are businesses that solely focus on NHSaves efforts and they would be in jeopardy in total.

Michael Turcotte: Yes, sir. It would more than likely kill that whole industry within a year's time. The most important part about what's going on right now is that I don't think anyone wants to move. I don't think that there's incentive or accountability at the moment, and that's really the largest issue, in my opinion.