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Clean Energy New Hampshire says they will challenge PUC order in Superior Court

A photo of the CENH energy efficiency press conference
Mara Hoplamazian for NHPR
Energy efficiency contractors and Clean Energy New Hampshire hosted a press conference Monday to discuss the PUC's recent order on energy efficiency

The advocacy group Clean Energy New Hampshire said they will take legal action in New Hampshire Superior Court to challenge the Public Utilities Commission’s (PUC) recent order, which cuts back energy efficiency efforts in New Hampshire.

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Energy efficiency contractors, speaking with Clean Energy New Hampshire at a Monday press conference, said the order could mean major layoffs.

“If the PUC order stands, we are going to have to lay off the majority of our weatherization crews right before the holidays,” Bill Newell of energy efficiency company Newell and Crathern said.

Newell said energy efficiency receives a lot of customer interest and support, but the Public Utilities Commission’s order to reject an energy efficiency plan and cut funding to other energy efficiency programs has thrown their operations into question.

Clean Energy New Hampshire says the order if enacted, will shrink energy efficiency programs by more than half in the state.

Energy efficiency programs can be particularly important to low-income residents, and organizations that provide weatherization for low-income clients have said the order has put some of their work on hold.

Jason Palmer, of P&M Insulation, said his organization mostly serves low-income residents.

“These programs allow us to help people,” Palmer said. “Sadly, there are many more people that need our help. I’m hoping these programs can continue so we can continue helping people that desperately need it.”

Clean Energy New Hampshire plans to file a petition in New Hampshire Superior Court asking the judge to put the PUC’s order on hold and to return funding to 2020 levels.

New Hampshire law says challenges to the Commission’s decisions must go through the Public Utilities Commission, said Amy Manzelli, the lead council for Clean Energy New Hampshire.

“But what that law doesn’t contemplate is the unprecedented nature of this order,” she said in an interview with NHPR.

Between the effect on the energy efficiency economy in New Hampshire, which Manzelli called “catastrophic,” and the lack of commissioners in office at the PUC, she says emergency action in court is necessary to avoid layoffs.

Usually, the PUC has three commissioners. One of the two commissioners who signed the order on energy efficiency, Dianne Martin, left office the day she signed the order. And one of the two commissioners in the process of being confirmed, Carleton Simpson, is a former employee of Unitil.

Don Kreis, New Hampshire's consumer advocate, said Simpson's previous role disqualifies him from participating in the case during an Energy Efficiency and Sustainable Energy Board meeting last week.

The lack of commissioners who could rule on the case may mean Gov. Chris Sununu would need to appoint special commissioners to continue making rulings in the docket, Kreis said, which could slow down the process.

Clean Energy New Hampshire’s plan for legal action comes in parallel to a process to challenge the order within the PUC through a motion for rehearing. Any person “directly affected” by the decision can file a motion for rehearing, and Kreis says his office will be among the parties seeking rehearing.

The deadline for parties to the docket to file a motion for rehearing is Dec. 13, but Kreis said it could be filed as early as the end of this week.

The state’s utility companies are also parties affected by the order, and could seek a motion for rehearing.

Eversource, the state’s largest electric utility, said in a statement that without a process to consider the overhaul of energy efficiency programs in the recent order, “program participants and all customers across the state face unnecessary and unwarranted harm.”

“We appreciate the efforts of our fellow stakeholders who share our commitment to robust, cost-effective energy efficiency solutions for the people and businesses of New Hampshire,” Eversource said.