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Bill to strip part of NH utility regulation would include other energy policy, under new amendment

Electric grid: Utility lines, towers
Dan Tuohy
/
NHPR
Utility lines and towers

State legislators are considering a bill that would repeal a major component of utility regulations. After a Senate amendment introduced Tuesday, it would also include other unrelated energy policy priorities on both sides of the aisle.

The core of the bill would end what’s known as least cost integrated resource planning, a process electric and gas utility companies go through to ensure their plans come at the least cost to ratepayers. The process also ensures they comply with other state policies, like protecting the environment and public health.

New Hampshire’s consumer advocate, Don Kreis, has previously described integrated resource planning as one of the two pillars of utility regulation. The other pillar Kreis identified, called a rate case, looks backwards at investments a utility has made, examining whether they were responsible. Least cost integrated resource plans look forward, assessing utilities’ plans before money is spent.

Least cost integrated resource planning is enshrined in parts of New Hampshire law, which House Bill 281 would repeal.

“What this bill does is it allows us to reduce government regulation, and it's always important, in my judgment, to reduce government red tape whenever we can,” said Rep. Michael Vose, R-Epping, in Tuesday’s hearing.

The bill passed narrowly in the House along party lines – with no Democrats voting in favor.

Those who supported the legislation argued the planning process was relevant when utility companies owned energy generators, but now that utility companies only deliver energy and manage the poles and wires, they’re not needed anymore. Those opposed said the planning process is outdated and needs improvements but is still necessary.

But, in the Senate, an amendment to the bill has transformed it into a buffet of other energy priorities for both Republicans and Democrats.

Advocacy groups pushed back on the effort to include the unrelated policy in the bill during a hearing Tuesday.

“Any wins for clean energy from the amendment to HB 281 pale in comparison to eliminating the least cost integrated resource planning process, and the significant costs for ratepayers that would likely result from repealing those statutes,” said Nick Krakoff, a senior attorney for the Conservation Law Foundation.

He said a repeal would also be detrimental to the environment and public health.

The amendment would include an effort to remove the requirement that small-scale energy generators, like solar farms, only serve customers located within the same municipality. That’s been pushed by Democrats in other bills this session.

Senator David Wattes, D-Dover, said including that legislation in the amendment would give it a better chance of getting approval from Gov. Chris Sununu.

“Doing it this way, and in this version, means that we avoid a veto. And I am a strong believer in getting something rather than nothing,” he said during testimony Tuesday. “This is important. It will really open the door to significant investment in our municipalities.”

The amendment would also repeal the state’s Energy Efficiency and Sustainable Energy Board and transfer some of their responsibilities to New Hampshire’s Department of Energy. On top of that, it would add a requirement to put an estimated annual cost of compliance with the state’s Renewable Portfolio Standard on every electricity customer’s bill once a year.

The amendment also makes changes to a committee in charge of deciding where energy projects can be located. The Site Evaluation Committee has been under scrutiny for years, and other efforts in the House to change or overhaul it were proposed this year.

The amendment doesn’t take up all of the issues from other sitting reform bills, but instead makes smaller changes, lawmakers said.

Officials from the state’s Department of Energy spoke in favor of the bill and its amendment.

New Hampshire’s largest electric utility company, Eversource, did not take a position on most aspects of the bill, but a company representative said they were supportive of the reforms to the Site Evaluation Committee.

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