After turmoil, new energy efficiency plans approved by PUC
The state’s utility companies proposed an ambitious 3-year plan for energy efficiency programs in the state. But the Public Utilities Commission delayed their decision, denied the plan, and moved in the other direction, cutting the rates funding New Hampshire Saves. But now, new energy efficiency plans have been approved, and we're sharing more updates to the story here.
Need more context on the PUC and the fight over NHSaves and energy efficiency? Scroll to the bottom for the background.
PUC approves new efficiency plans
After nearly two years, the New Hampshire Public Utilities Commission approved energy efficiency plans for 2022 and 2023 at the end of last week, which will provide a first look at a new landscape for energy efficiency in New Hampshire.
The approval follows the passage of a bipartisan bill signed by Gov. Chris Sununu that codified rates that fund energy efficiency and stabilized other parts of energy efficiency programs that state regulators tried to change.
Now, the rates funding energy efficiency remain at their 2020 levels for the foreseeable future, with modest yearly increases, which is a fundamental change from the way New Hampshire previously funded energy efficiency, using an energy efficiency resource standard, or EERS. The 2018-2020 energy efficiency plan was the first based on that standard in the state.
In New Hampshire, the purpose of the EERS was to achieve all cost-effective energy efficiency measures – setting goals and then determining the budgets needed to achieve them. Now, the state is setting the budgets for energy efficiency, then trying to achieve all the efficiency possible within those limits.
“I hereby pronounce the energy efficiency resource standard dead,” said New Hampshire’s consumer advocate, Don Kreis. “But that begs a lot of questions. If we're not going to pursue all cost-effective energy efficiency…then the question is, how much energy efficiency are we going to pursue?”
The budgets for energy efficiency programs in the approved plans are well over $100 million less than the utilities initially proposed in 2020 with support from clean energy advocates and Kreis.
But Eversource, the state’s largest utility, says customers will still be able to participate in NH Saves programs they’ve used in the past.
“Everything contained in the plan was approved as filed, so the existing program offerings that have been in place for the past number of years will continue,” Eversource representative William Hinkle said in a statement to NHPR.
The goal of energy efficiency programs is to save energy, lower costs for consumers and reduce New Hampshire’s reliance on fossil fuels, which are driving climate change.
The target proposed in the March 1 utility filings is to save 1.62% of the energy delivered annually over the course of 2022 and 2023. In testimony to the PUC, Clean Energy New Hampshire’s Chris Skoglund said reductions in energy use throughout 2022 and 2023 would lead to a reduction of more than 1.5 million tons of carbon dioxide, and save customers $441 million over the lifetime of the measures.
When combined with Eversource’s estimated savings in 2021, the company says savings in New Hampshire over the course of the 2021-2023 period would be around 2.8%. For all utilities, the energy savings over the course of the 2018-2020 period were 3.2%.
In a statement, Eversource said the program structure and offerings reflected in the new filings are largely unchanged from the 2018-2020 plans. But one big change, the company said, is that they’re phasing out residential lighting measures (like replacing light bulbs with energy-efficient alternatives), a relatively low-cost form of energy efficiency. The company said that’s a major reason the energy savings look different compared to the previous three-year plan.
Kreis said the changing nature of energy efficiency is one of the challenges of having set levels for energy efficiency rates.
“We're always reaching for the lowest hanging fruit and once you pick it, it's picked,” he said. “The same amount of money in 2022 buys less energy efficiency than it did back in 2019 or 2020.”
Though energy efficiency technology is always evolving, Kreis said low-cost solutions are not developing fast enough to replace the ones Granite Staters have already adopted.
At least 20% of energy efficiency funds in the approved plans must go to lower-income Granite Staters, who often stand to benefit most from the savings that measures like weatherizing a home can bring.
In the new plans, the cap on funding for a single project through the income-qualified Home Energy Assistance program is set at $15,000, with exceptions for certain projects allowed.
The PUC’s original order reduced that cap from $20,000 to $8,000. Advocates have said a lower cap forces program participants to make difficult choices about which energy efficiency measures they should use. According to the PUC order, Southern New Hampshire Services and LISTEN Community Services both supported increasing the cap to $15,000.
Multiple organizations brought lawsuits or motions for the Public Utilities Commission to reconsider their November decision to reject the original plan from New Hampshire’s utilities. According to state regulators, all pending litigation related to the energy efficiency plans has been resolved or withdrawn.
Energy efficiency compromise bill heads to the governor’s desk
Updated Feb 16, 2022 at 3:15 pm
House Bill 549 will head to Gov. Chris Sununu’s desk, after the New Hampshire House of Representatives concurred Wednesday with the Senate’s amendment to the bill.
The bill would put the rates that fund energy efficiency programs into state law, along with returning other aspects of those programs to their 2020 structures. The proposal received widespread bipartisan support after a November decision by the Public Utilities Commission made major changes to New Hampshire’s energy efficiency programs.
Republican Representative Michael Vose, who introduced the bill in a different form last year, spoke in favor of the amended bill at the House’s gathering Wednesday, asking members to “raise [their] voice in a loud, reverberating ‘Aye’.”
The amended bill has received support from groups that formally challenged the PUC’s order, including utility companies, clean energy advocates, energy efficiency contractors, and the state’s consumer advocate.
But the bill doesn’t resolve everything changed by the PUC’s order. Uncertainties remain around the caps on per-project funding for income-qualified energy efficiency programs.
And the bill doesn’t require the Public Utilities Commission to follow the Energy Efficiency Resource Standard, said Raymond Burke, an attorney with New Hampshire Legal Assistance representing LISTEN community services in a Supreme Court challenge to the PUC’s decision. That standard involves first setting goals for energy savings and then determining the budgets to reach those goals. Instead, HB 549 is focused on setting rates.
PUC restores funding for energy efficiency in settlement with Consumer Advocate
Updated Feb 10, 2022 at 6:00 pm
After cutting the rates that fund energy efficiency in New Hampshire in November, the state’s Public Utilities Commission returned those rates to their 2020 levels in a Thursday order.
“We have achieved a small, but in my way of thinking, significant, victory in the New Hampshire Supreme Court by getting the Public Utilities Commission to back off the ledge a little bit,” said consumer advocate Don Kreis.
The Thursday order is the result of a settlement agreement between the PUC and the Office of the Consumer Advocate, negotiated after the Office of the Consumer Advocate asked the New Hampshire Supreme Court to suspend the PUC’s November order.
Kreis said his office was in the process of dropping the motion to stay the PUC’s November order they filed with the New Hampshire Supreme Court.
The state’s utility companies, environmental groups, LISTEN Community Services, and the Office of the Consumer Advocate all filed appeals of the PUC order, but only the Office of the Consumer Advocate filed a motion for a stay of the order.
Kreis called the PUC’s move an interim step, which returns funding for energy efficiency to the status quo while other attempts to reverse the November decision are worked out.
“We still confront these looming questions about whether ratepayer-funded energy efficiency is in fact a vital part of the electric and natural gas services that customers in our state receive,” he said.
Other aspects of the PUC’s order, outside of the rates that fund energy efficiency programs, remain in place. Those who oppose the order hope House Bill 549 will overrule much of the commission’s November decision.
LISTEN joins those appealing PUC decision in N.H. Supreme Court
Updated Feb 9, 2022 at 6:00 pm
LISTEN Community Services has joined utilities, advocacy groups, and the Office of the Consumer Advocate in filing an appeal of the PUC’s November energy efficiency decision with the New Hampshire Supreme Court.
LISTEN provides support for individuals and families in the Upper Valley.
In their appeal, LISTEN makes similar arguments as other groups, but also focuses on the impact of the PUC’s decision on low-income Granite Staters.
“As a result of the Commission’s Order, far fewer low-income energy efficiency jobs will be completed in 2022 and 2023,” the appeal reads. “The Commission’s unjust and unlawful Order subjects LISTEN and the low-income clients LISTEN serves to substantial and irreparable harm relating to the Order’s impact on the low-income HEA energy efficiency program.”
Raymond Burke, an attorney with New Hampshire Legal Assistance representing LISTEN, said the PUC’s order, which reduced the cap on funds that can go into a single home, limits the effectiveness of income-qualified energy efficiency programs. He said the Commission’s decision to transition to market-based energy efficiency programs could lead to the end of programs that help lower-income Granite Staters weatherize their homes.
“That really contradicts decades of energy efficiency policy and decisions dating back to the early 2000s,” Burke said. “It also, we think, contradicts the statutory mandates around energy efficiency, which...note that we should be directing programs to benefit those who need it the most: low-income households.”
And House Bill 549, which many see as a solution to the issues advocates and utility companies have raised about the PUC’s decision, doesn’t address everything, Burke said.
He pointed to the issue of how much notice the commission must give parties to a docket when it hopes to change something broader than the parties anticipated as an important question that will remain open, even if HB 549 is signed into law. That’s something each appeal has raised to the state’s Supreme Court.
As for the bill itself, Burke said it was successful as a workable bipartisan compromise, but that he’s concerned it doesn’t address the reduced cap on funding that can go into one energy efficiency project under the income-qualified Home Energy Assistance program.
And, Burke said, the bill doesn’t address the core of the issue: the PUC’s reversal of New Hampshire’s framework for energy efficiency.
“[HB 549] preserves the funding levels with modest increases, but it does not require the PUC to follow the framework of the Energy Efficiency Resource Standard, which is really where you set your savings goals first and then determine what budget is needed to achieve those goals,” he said.
Angela Zhang, programs director at LISTEN, said energy efficiency programs can have a big impact on clients.
“We see a lot of people who really struggle with making ends meet and being able to afford to pay for their utilities. And one of the biggest things that we always recommend to them is weatherization. Energy efficiency is one of the best ways to reduce costs,” she said.
Utilities and advocacy groups challenge PUC decision in NH Supreme Court
Updated Feb. 8, 2022 at 9:00 am
The Conservation Law Foundation and Clean Energy New Hampshire have filed a joint appeal with the New Hampshire Supreme Court, challenging the Public Utilities Commission’s November order on energy efficiency.
The advocacy groups’ appeal follows a joint appeal filed Friday by all of the state’s utility companies.
Nick Krakoff, an attorney at the Conservation Law Foundation, said in an interview that energy efficiency is important as a major way to mitigate climate change.
“The theory behind energy efficiency is that by consuming less energy, you don't have to to use some of those more polluting sources of of of energy – like coal-generated power plants like the Merrimack Station,” he said.
His organization’s appeal argues that the Public Utilities Commission made an unreasonable and arbitrary decision and didn’t follow the statutes that govern energy efficiency in the state. The appeal also argues commissioners didn’t give enough notice to the parties involved about the scale of the decision they were making.
“The Public Utilities Commission didn't provide adequate notice that it was going to basically reverse prior orders that were governing energy efficiency in New Hampshire,” he said.
The state’s utilities also argue the PUC failed to give them adequate notice that it would be fundamentally changing the structure of energy efficiency in New Hampshire.
“Whatever latitude administrative bodies might have in the precision of their notice, this case is not a close call. Nothing in the notice gave any indication that key planning elements of the [Energy Efficiency Resource Standard] were being questioned,” their appeal said.
The utilities’ appeal also argues the PUC decided to change or eliminate parts of energy efficiency programs without providing record evidence or a basis for their decisions.
The New Hampshire Supreme Court must now decide whether to take up these appeals. Nick Krakoff said that decision could come in one or two months.
H.B. 549 passes in Senate, offering a legislative fix to PUC’s funding cuts
Updated: Feb. 3, 2022 at 5:28 pm
The bill advocates hope will return energy efficiency programs to 2020 levels after the PUC’s November order reduced their budgets is one step closer to becoming law. HB 549 was approved in the Senate on the consent calendar Thursday and will go back to the House for approval during the next session.
With a recent amendment in the Senate, HB 549 sets energy efficiency programs back to the structures that were in place in 2020, with modest yearly increases to the rates that fund those programs.
The bill and its recent amendment in the Senate have received widespread and bipartisan support from lawmakers, advocates and energy efficiency contractors. Kelly Buchanan, the director of legislative and regulatory affairs at Clean Energy New Hampshire, says the bill was a good compromise.
“We really came up with an excellent way to ensure New Hampshire's energy efficiency programs are stabilized, they're future-proofed, and we can continue to offer New Hampshire Saves to customers across New Hampshire,” Buchanan said.
Gov. Chris Sununu has also expressed his support for the legislation.
Consumer Advocate files appeal of PUC decision in NH Supreme Court
Updated: Jan. 26, 2022 at 2:41 p.m.
The fight over energy efficiency is moving to the New Hampshire Supreme Court after the Office of the Consumer Advocate filed an appeal of the Public Utilities Commission's decision to reject a plan to expand New Hampshire's energy efficiency programs and reduce the rates funding those programs.
It’s the first notice of appeal the office has filed since Don Kreis became the state’s consumer advocate.
Though the New Hampshire Supreme Court is not obligated to take up the OCA’s appeal, Kreis says he’s optimistic they will.
He said in an email the PUC’s November decision was bigger than just a reduction in energy efficiency funding.
“The PUC repudiated the very concept of the Energy Efficiency Resource Standard – the idea that New Hampshire should pursue all cost-effective energy efficiency,” he said.
In the appeal, the Office of the Consumer Advocate says the Commission repudiated past policy determinations, disregarded due process, made rulings that were not just and reasonable, and didn’t stick to the decisions it was set to make, instead deciding to reverse course on energy efficiency altogether.
“The commission decided to essentially abolish the Energy Efficiency Resource Standard without warning anybody that it was considering that course of action,” Kreis said in an interview.
In an email, Kreis said his office supports House Bill 549, which he called “remedial legislation.” HB 549 would overrule much of the PUC’s November order, but Kreis says there will likely still be issues for the Supreme Court to resolve, even if the bill is signed into law.
“The PUC commissioners seem to have an interest in wandering around into issues that haven’t been noticed and making decisions that really have no connection to the factual record,” he said.
Though New Hampshire has improved its energy efficiency score-card standing in recent years, the state still lags others in New England. And Kreis says supporting energy efficiency is essential for ratepayers.
“As Consumer Advocate, I believe that cost-effective energy efficiency is the single most valuable thing I can pursue on behalf of the residential utility customers whose interests I represent,” he said.
Parties to the PUC proceedings have 30 days from their Jan. 7 denial of rehearing requests to file an appeal with the New Hampshire Supreme Court. Kreis said others who disagreed with the PUC’s November decision plan to file appeals in the near future, and those would likely be consolidated with his appeal.
Senate committee votes to recommend amended energy efficiency bill
Update, Jan 19, 2022
A bill meant to address the uncertainty around New Hampshire’s energy efficiency program got the support of a state Senate committee on Tuesday.
The bill is a direct response to the Public Utilities Commission’s delay and subsequent denial and reversal on utility-submitted energy efficiency plans.
Republican Rep. Michael Vose, who introduced the bill in the House of Representatives in 2021, presented it in the fall as a solution to the delay at the PUC over energy efficiency. Now, many supporters see it as a way to save energy efficiency programs in the state, after the PUC’s November order reduced the rates that fund those programs.
The bill is backed by a broad coalition of stakeholders, including the state’s utilities, the Department of Energy, and Clean Energy New Hampshire.
“It really does provide us with the best path forward. It’s a consensus agreement on how to preserve, stabilize and future-proof our energy efficiency programs in the state,” said Kelly Buchanan, legislative director at Clean Energy New Hampshire, during a hearing Tuesday.
House Bill 549 remains a less ambitious vision for energy efficiency than Clean Energy New Hampshire was interested in pursuing, Buchanan said in an interview. The bill initially received pushback in the House, but some amendments and the PUC’s order changed things, Buchanan said.
“All of a sudden, [this] looked like a really excellent vehicle that would provide the speediest legislative fix, procedurally, to the energy efficiency workforce, to the customers who benefit from New Hampshire Saves, and frankly, to people working on this policy, as well,” she said.
A bipartisan group of legislators – Republican Rep. Michael Vose, Democratic Sen. David Watters, and Republican Sen. Kevin Avard – introduced an amendment to the bill that puts a framework for future triennial energy efficiency programs into state law.
The Department of Energy provided consultation on the amendment, and Buchanan said a variety of other groups, like utility companies and the state’s consumer advocate, were also consulted.
Gov. Chris Sununu also weighed in on the bill, writing in a letter to the Senate committee that the bill “provides the structure to ensure that these programs are set up for long-term success.”
He maintained in the letter that the initial energy efficiency plan rejected by the PUC would have been a burden on commercial and industrial energy customers.
The bill sets the funding mechanism for energy efficiency – the so-called “system benefits charge” – at 2020 levels, with a yearly increase based on a three-year average of the consumer price index plus 0.25%. It also allows utilities to put performance incentives in their plans, which the PUC rejected in their November order.
Vose says the bill as amended would keep the PUC in check.
“Because that language is in statute, it should be immune from tampering by the Public Utilities Commission. The Public Utilities Commission, after all, implements state law. They don’t make state law,” Vose said.
The amendment outlines a timeline for the PUC’s approval of an energy efficiency plan for 2022 and 2023, giving the commission a deadline to approve new utility-submitted plans based on the new funding levels by May 1, 2022. The amendment also gives the commission deadlines to approve future energy efficiency plans.
Watters said time was of the essence for the bipartisan bill.
“We needed the very fastest vehicle possible for doing this,” he said. “It would have been just devastating on the businesses and on the families that were going to depend on this.”
The bill now moves to the full Senate for approval, and Watters hopes it will be on Sununu’s desk by early February.
Public Utilities Commission issues near-complete denial of requests for rehearing
Updated: Jan. 7, 2022
The Public Utilities Commission stood firm today on their controversial November order that reduces the rates that fund New Hampshire Saves, rejecting challenges from advocates, utility companies, and the state’s Department of Energy to reconsider their decision.
Commissioners provided some clarifications and partial rehearings on issues brought up by those who challenged the order but denied in large part the request to rehear the issue.
New Hampshire’s consumer advocate Don Kreis is among the challengers. He said today’s order left him surprised and dismayed.
“The agency doubled down on its ideology-driven repudiation of the basic idea that energy efficiency is a critical part of the service that our electric and natural gas utilities provide to every customer in this state,” he said.
In their new order, the PUC claims the rates established in their November order would actually increase energy efficiency budgets compared to the 2018-2020 plan, despite the fact that the new yearly rates are identical to that plan and decrease over the next two years.
The PUC denied a request to disqualify one commissioner, Pradip Chattopadhyay, for conflict of interest. But they did say they've applied for the appointment of a special commissioner to fill the spot of the third commissioner, who also has a conflict of interest, something advocates had asked for.
The next step for the parties that challenged the initial order is to bring the issue before the New Hampshire Supreme Court. They have 30 days to submit a petition with the court.
Energy efficiency bill passes N.H. House of Representatives
Update, Jan. 7 , 2021
The House of Representatives voted unanimously on Thursday to pass HB 549, a bill that aims to give New Hampshire’s legislature control over the funding mechanism for energy efficiency.
The bill would set funding for energy efficiency in the state at 2020 levels, with yearly increases based on the three-year average of inflation plus a quarter of a percent.
Republican Representative Michael Vose, who introduced the bill, says the current fight over energy efficiency could provide new a opportunity for different ways of thinking about efficiency.
“What the recent conflict with the PUC provides for us is motivation to look at these other solutions to see if we can find the one that works better,” he said.
The bill faced opposition in the house’s Science, Technology and Energy committee when it was heard previously. Those who did not support it previously said it was a dramatic change to energy efficiency in the state and required a more thorough vetting process.
Sam Evans-Brown, an advocate for energy efficiency whose organization has challenged the PUC’s order in court, said the bill could be a “vehicle to rescue” New Hampshire Saves.
Superior Court judge declines to issue temporary hold on energy efficiency rules
Update, Dec. 30, 2021
Judge Andrew Schulman didn’t waste any time.
Schulman, a Superior Court judge, was asked to issue a temporary hold on the Public Utilities Commission’s recent order curbing emergency efficiency programs in the state. He released a three-page opinion today denying the plaintiffs' request.
On Monday, Schulman heard arguments from Clean Energy NH, an advocacy group, as well as energy efficiency contractors and other parties, who argued that the PUC’s surprise move in November to cut efficiency programs with the stated intention of lowering energy rates for residents violated their due process rights and would put hundreds if not thousands of clean energy jobs at risk.
Lawyers from the New Hampshire Department of Justice, who are representing the PUC, argued that the appropriate place for an appeal was not in the superior courts, but rather within the PUC’s own appeal system, or at the New Hampshire Supreme Court.
According to state law, those seeking to challenge a PUC order can appeal to the Supreme Court within 30 days after their application for a rehearing is denied or after a decision is made on a rehearing.
Schulman agreed with the government, writing that the “New Hampshire Supreme Court has the exclusive jurisdiction to hear and decide this case.”
He noted that the Supreme Court has the ability to issue interim orders on the appeal, including issuing a stay on the November order, as plaintiffs are requesting. Schulman noted that the justices on the highest court can “act with great alacrity when it needs to.”
Lawyers for the plaintiffs did not immediately respond to a request for comment on if or when they will appeal to the Supreme Court.
In an email statement, Sam Evans-Brown, the executive director of Clean Energy New Hampshire, said the group will continue pushing back against the order.
"We disagree with the judge's analysis that the standard process of appealing a PUC decision represents an adequate legal remedy speedy enough to avoid the harm to the state's energy efficiency workforce,” he said. “In collaboration with the numerous parties that disagree with this decision, we will continue to exhaust all legal remedies until this order is overturned."
-Todd Bookman, NHPR
Liberty Utility president says energy efficiency programs are a way to offset variability in energy costs
Updated: Dec. 29, 2021
Neil Proudman, President of Liberty Utilities, spoke with NHPR’s Peter Biello about the PUC’s decision on energy efficiency.
“When I think about energy efficiency and the energy efficiency programs that we offer, [they] are good for customers at a time when energy prices are at the most volatile. When you think about the energy commodity prices, we're very susceptible at the moment to this global energy economy. And we, as utilities, can do absolutely nothing about that…. There's a couple of ways that we can offset that, but one of the best ways is through an energy efficiency program.”
Judge hears arguments for pausing PUC decision on energy efficiency
Update: Dec. 27, 2021
A superior court judge heard a request today to temporarily halt a recent order by the Public Utilities Commission that scales back energy efficiency programs in New Hampshire.
The suit was filed by Clean Energy NH, an advocacy group, as well as several energy efficiency construction firms, the New Hampshire Housing Authorities Corporation, and the Town of Hanover. The petitioners are asking the court to halt the new plan from the PUC and reinstate a previous set of guidelines and funding rates while a separate appeal before that agency is heard.
The hearing was the latest step in a legal fight that, according to activists, could determine the fate of New Hampshire’s energy efficiency industry.
“These plaintiffs are hanging on by a thread,” Amy Manzelli, who is representing Clean Energy NH, told Judge Andrew Schulman during Monday’s hearing. “They are on the verge of closing their businesses. They are already laying off people.”
The PUC – a regulatory body that has oversight over utilities in the state – rejected a proposed $350 million, three-year funding plan for energy efficiency programs in November, surprising advocates and utility providers. The commission said the plan would have placed too large a financial burden on customers in New Hampshire.
In court Monday, lawyers from the state Department of Justice, which is representing the PUC, argued state law prohibits a superior court judge from halting the order, and that the plaintiffs should have filed their request with the New Hampshire Supreme Court.
The judge also appeared to question if the appeal had been filed in the proper court, asking the plaintiffs why he should “usurp” the jurisdiction of the state’s highest court. In response, the plaintiffs argued that the PUC’s decision, which came nearly a year after a deadline, violated the due process rights of energy efficiency contractors and didn’t provide advocates with a meaningful opportunity to participate in the decision.
Plaintiffs also raised concerns that recent turnover among the PUC’s three commissioners, including a nominated but not yet confirmed new commissioner, could lead to delays in the appeals process before the regulatory body.
“We need your intervention now because of the drastic disruption that the order is putting into the energy efficiency sector,” Manzelli told the court.
Judge Andrew Schulman told the parties he would issue a written order, but didn’t provide a timeframe for when that decision may be handed down.
Utility providers, a statewide chamber of commerce, and Gov. Chris Sununu have all raised concerns with the potential impact of the PUC’s order. An estimated 11,000 New Hampshire residents work in the state’s energy efficiency sector, with many of those jobs, advocates say, directly threatened by the decision to reduce funding for programs.
New Hampshire Bulletin: PUC staffer nominated as ‘special commissioner’ on energy efficiency program dispute
Updated: Dec. 22, 2021
Attorney F. Anne Ross was nominated at Wednesday’s Executive Council meeting to serve as a special commissioner on the Public Utilities Commission, which she works for as general counsel.
If confirmed, Ross would be acting on a total of 26 various issues that are currently before the utilities commission, including the contentious triennial energy efficiency plan and other cases where another commissioner can’t act on because his prior involvement in the cases creates a conflict of interest. In addition to working for the commission, Ross has previously served as the consumer advocate.
Current Consumer Advocate Don Kreis said the nomination raised a question of whether Ross would be able to act independently as a commissioner given that she currently reports to the chair of the commission. He said the appointment would set a bad precedent.
Office of Consumer Advocate asks for disqualification of PUC member
December 17, 2021
The Office of the Consumer Advocate asked for Pradip Chattopadhyay, a recently confirmed Commissioner at the Public Utilities Commission, to be disqualified from participating in the decision-making on energy efficiency. Chattopadhyay previously worked in the Office of the Consumer Advocate, which joined with others to file a motion for rehearing on the PUC’s recent energy efficiency decision.
Chattopadhyay said in a memo that he wouldn’t recuse himself from the energy efficiency decision-making process, because he was not assigned to work on the energy efficiency proceedings as part of his job as the Assistant Consumer Advocate, though he attended office-wide staff meetings where some made reference to the plan. He said that he is not privy to any confidential information related to the energy efficiency plan, and that his prior employment has not led him to prejudge the issues.
“My prior employment with the OCA has no impact on my ability to participate in this docket fairly and impartially,” Chattopadhyay wrote.
On Thursday, the Office of the Consumer Advocate, led by Don Kreis, filed a motion for Commissioner Chattopadhyay to be disqualified from further participation in the docket, saying that his position was high-ranking within the department, and because of that, every matter taken up by the OCA was assigned to him while he was there. Kreis also said energy efficiency is one of the highest priorities at the OCA, and was discussed at nearly every weekly staff meeting since 2016, almost all of which Commissioner Chattopadhyay attended.
Kreis also noted that the Office of the Consumer Advocate requested in September that Commissioner Chattopadhyay be excluded from participating in the energy efficiency proceedings, before Chattopadhyay was promoted from Senior Advisor to PUC Commissioner.
December 16, 2021
Wednesday, Dec. 15 was the deadline for the state’s utilities to file updated energy efficiency budgets based on the PUC's November order. The day before the filing was due, the Commission issued an order in response to the multiple requests for stay, clarification, and rehearing of their order, and suspended two of the requirements – the utilities no longer had to file a spreadsheet with program and cost items larger than $500,000, and didn’t have to include program proposals with their budgets.
Utility companies filed their energy efficiency budgets, which reflected a decrease in the energy efficiency portion of the system benefits charge for the next two years as mandated by the order.
It’s a decrease of less than one cent per kilowatt-hour, which could add up to a few dollars in savings per month for the average residential customer. The system benefits charge isn’t the only source of funding for energy efficiency budgets, but it’s where most of the funding comes from, according to Wednesday’s filings. Eversource’s filings show revenues from the system benefits charge that could be used toward energy efficiency efforts are expected to decrease about $12 million between 2021 and 2022, and $7 million between 2022 and 2023.
The Background: What is this all about?
New Hampshire is making potential changes to energy efficiency that could have a major impact on the state. Things like weatherization and updating old appliances have upfront costs, but those efforts save money in the long run and cut down on fossil fuel use. In New Hampshire, many agree on the value of energy efficiency. But who should pay for it, and how much should they pay?
In mid-November, the state’s Public Utilities Commission, which regulates utilities, rejected a three-year plan to expand energy efficiency programs in the state, jolting the entire industry. That plan was supported by utility companies and other major stakeholders and would have cost about $350 million for NH Saves. That money comes from what’s known as the system benefits charge on customers’ electricity bills.
Instead, the PUC reversed course: decreasing the rates of funding for those programs and advocating for “market-based” energy efficiency programs. The commissioners said that the price of the original proposal was too high and would place “an enormous burden on New Hampshire ratepayers.” It also did away with performance incentives for utilities, which meant those companies would earn more if customers saved more.
The next week, some utilities halted some of their energy efficiency work and some said this would increase utility costs in the future. Energy efficiency contractors said the uncertainty meant they might have to lay off employees during the holidays. Advocates are worried about all of this happening during the coldest part of the year when home heating costs are rising.
Now, a similar coalition that put together that triennial plan is pushing back on PUC’s order. In early December 2021, clean energy advocates, the state’s utility companies, community action agencies and others filed a motion for rehearing. Clean Energy NH, energy efficiency contractors and the Town of Hanover also sued the PUC in Superior Court, asking a judge to issue a stay on the order and return energy efficiency funding back to 2020 levels. The Department of Energy also asked for a return to those funding levels, while the decision is reconsidered.
Gov. Chris Sununu and the Business and Industry Association have both expressed support for the efforts to push back on the PUC’s order. But both remain opposed to the levels of funding in the original proposal. Sununu says that it would harm small businesses, and the BIA wants a more “modest approach.”
“I think this has forced Granite Staters to think about whether these initiatives are important to ratepayers and to the public policy of the state,” Don Kreis, the state’s consumer advocate said. ”There seems to be consensus that in fact, this is good public policy and we should not reverse course and get rid of it.”
We’re keeping all our coverage of how this energy efficiency decision unfolds here, so keep checking back for the latest updates.
Read previous coverage from the New Hampshire Bulletin on this issue here.