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Energy assistance is coming to more Granite Staters this fall

Dave Cummings
New Hampshire Bulletin

With electricity prices spiking for many Granite Staters, Gov. Chris Sununu has signed an emergency energy assistance plan into law. The effort raced through the legislature during special sessions on Thursday, when lawmakers met to consider vetoes from the last session.

Under the new program, Granite Staters making 60 to 75% of the state median income can apply for $450 in fuel assistance and $200 in electricity assistance. It would also put $7 million toward electric assistance programs for lower-income residents.

The total price tag is $42 million, which will come from state surplus funds.

The plan is significantly different from Sununu’s original proposal – the centerpiece of which was a $60 million fund that would be used to fund $100 credits for most electricity customers in the state.

“While this final legislation looks a little different from what we originally proposed, this is a big win,” Sununu said in a statement, which called the legislation the “largest energy relief package this state has ever seen.”

The effort passed with bipartisan support in the House. Charlestown Republican Rep. Steven Smith spoke in favor of the bill, saying it was focused on helping households that aren’t eligible for low income energy assistance programs.

“We have inflation, and we have rising costs. So it seems reasonable that if you are, say, 15% above that bracket that they have right now, you may be feeling like the people in that bracket felt a couple of years ago,” he said. “It seems right to try to do at least a slight correction and give those people some assistance.”

New Hampshire’s low-income electric assistance program can provide 8% to 76% discounts on monthly electric bills, depending on income. For fuel assistance, benefits range from $158 to $1,575. And low-income families will also see a $405 credit to offset electricity costs this season.

Rep. Marjorie Smith, a Democrat from Durham, spoke in favor of the bill, joking that it was a rare occasion for her to be in agreement with the other Smith. But, she said, the program doesn’t address the root cause of energy costs.

“If I had my druthers, I would not be favoring a short term, six month solution, but a long term change in how we address the very real problems that we will be facing in this city, in this county, in this state and this nation on how we deliver and what we deliver to meet our energy needs,” she said.

In the Senate, the bill ultimately passed unanimously. But Senators clashed across party lines after Democrats introduced an amendment that would have raised the cap on net metering and put more money towards low-income energy efficiency programs, which some said would have addressed the longer-term issues creating high energy costs.

“Without the amendment, it's like putting a Band-Aid on a gaping wound. We would not be addressing the underlying issue, which is that New Hampshire has fallen dramatically behind in the renewable energy economy,” said Senate Democrat Tom Sherman.

Sen. David Watters, a Democrat from Dover, spoke about how New England’s reliance on natural gas is contributing to the high cost of energy.

“If you’re cooking with gas right now, you’ll get burned,” he said.

The new assistance programs will be administered through the Department of Energy, according to the law. The fuel assistance program will be administered in the same way as LIHEAP, though the funds will be managed separately. Electricity assistance applications will be taken in conjunction.

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