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Clean Energy New Hampshire sues N.H. Public Utilities Commission

New Hampshire Bulletin
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Clean Energy New Hampshire filed a lawsuit Tuesday against New Hampshire’s Public Utilities Commission, in a move they announced last week.

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The advocacy group argues the PUC’s recent order on energy efficiency “unexpectedly, inexplicably, and unlawfully” defunded the budget for a three-year energy efficiency plan. The plan was jointly submitted by New Hampshire utility companies.

The lawsuit aims to put the order on hold and keep funding in place at 2020 levels until challenges to the order are resolved. The advocacy group was joined by other plaintiffs, including businesses in the energy efficiency field, the Town of Hanover, and the New Hampshire Housing Authorities Corporation.

The Commission’s order, which reduces funding for energy efficiency programs in the state, surprised many stakeholders. New Hampshire's utility companies, the consumer advocate, and some advocacy groups supported a plan that would have increased funding for those programs.

At a recent press conference, some contractors said the order would force them to enact immediate layoffs if it was not addressed. Last week, Liberty Utilities said the proposed cuts to energy efficiency programs would increase customers’ utility costs at least $30 million in the future.

Though challenges to PUC orders must go through the Commission under New Hampshire law, the lawsuit argues that due to the order’s delay, the expiration of 2021 program budgets, and the transition period the Commission is in, the plaintiffs have no other legal remedies to avoid the harm that the order could cause.

“Plaintiffs seek court relief to prevent hundreds, possibly thousands, of layoffs and other statewide harms to the people who make up the energy efficiency sector of New Hampshire’s economy, harms that have already begun and which, without expedited court intervention, will imminently worsen prior to the holidays,” the lawsuit says.

In their order, the Public Utilities Commission said the proposed energy efficiency plan would place an “enormous burden on New Hampshire ratepayers,” saying they hoped the state would transition to market-based energy efficiency.

Ratepayers fund energy efficiency through something called the System Benefits Charge. Typical residential utility customers would likely have seen their bill increase by a few dollars per month, the state’s consumer advocate, Don Kreis, said.

In the lawsuit, Clean Energy New Hampshire asks the court to issue orders that suspend the Public Utilities Commission’s order and reinstating 2020 levels of funding without a hearing, or to schedule an expedited hearing before December 15, when the utility companies must present new budgets to the Commission.

Mara Hoplamazian reports on climate change, energy, and the environment for NHPR.
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