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NH Republicans oppose creation of environmental justice position at New England’s grid operator

Annie Ropeik
/
NHPR

Gov. Chris Sununu and other top State House Republicans are opposing the creation of a job focused on environmental justice at the organization that runs the region’s electric grid, ISO New England.

Earlier this month, top energy officials from each of the other New England states sent a letter to ISO New England, advocating for the organization to include an executive-level environmental justice position in their next budget.

The ISO says they’ve included in their budget a “placeholder for a full-time position focused on environmental policy and consumer affairs,” which will allow for further discussion among New England leaders.

The new hire could provide an “equity lens” to the grid operator’s management and staff and inform the development of initiatives, rules and operations, the letter says, along with engaging with environmental justice communities.

“A successful clean energy transition cannot happen without community engagement and a meaningful role for [environmental justice] communities in helping to shape decisions that impact wholesale power and transmission rates and affect how the benefits and burdens of our electric system are apportioned,” the letter says. “Creating this position would serve as a critical bridge from ISO-NE to the communities it serves.”

Sununu and other state Republicans, by contrast, called the creation of an environmental justice position a “wasteful expense” and said it was designed to “compel progressive societal change.”

Sununu’s letter says a position created to address environmental justice would “accommodate policy goals that fall outside of ISO New England’s mandate,” and argues it would undermine efforts to make the electricity system more reliable and affordable.

But proponents of the new ISO position said reliability, affordability, and environmental justice are not mutually exclusive.

“We’re not saying that we want to incorporate environmental justice at the expense of the reliability of our grid or at the expense of having affordable power,” said Mireille Bejjani, co-director of the regional non-profit Slingshot. “We are saying that environmental justice will actually facilitate those two other things.”

Bejjani’s group has been advocating for ISO New England to hire a full team to focus on environmental justice.

The grid operator coordinates the flow of electricity on the transmission system, oversees energy markets in the region, and plans for New England’s electric needs for the future. And for Bejjani, it’s important that climate change and justice are part of that conversation.

“We can’t pretend that our grid doesn’t interact with people’s health, with people’s futures, and with greenhouse gas emissions affecting our future on this planet,” they said. “That’s where an environmental justice perspective comes in.”

ISO New England has been criticized for its lack of accessibility and perceptions that it is moving slowly on clean energy. A group of environmental advocates ran for positions on the grid operator’s Consumer Liaison Group, which provides a bridge between the ISO and ratepayers in the region, and six were elected last November.

Kendra Ford, a climate organizer with 350 New Hampshire, was one of those advocates. She said the Consumer Liaison Group has been trying to push ISO-New England to pay more attention to environmental justice issues, and that one executive position might not be effective on its own.

But she also noted that one environmental justice position would not be a large part of the ISO’s budget, compared to the salaries other executives are making.

“If Sununu was really concerned about affordability, if he's really thinking about how much something's going to cost ratepayers, he would be looking at how much of an increase some of the officers at the ISO are asking for,” she said.

ISO New England’s operations are funded through fees from buyers and sellers in wholesale electricity markets and users of the electric grid. The non-profit estimates its services cost the average ratepayer $1.12 per month in 2022.

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