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New energy efficiency plan gets first hearing in front of state regulators

Power lines in Nottingham, New Hampshire. Dan Tuohy photo
Dan Tuohy
Power lines in Nottingham, New Hampshire.

A plan for programs that could help New Hampshire residents use less energy, save money and reduce fossil fuel use got its first hearing in front of state regulators Wednesday.

The state’s utilities – Eversource, Unitil, Liberty, and the New Hampshire Electric Cooperative – submit a plan for their energy efficiency programs every three years. Those programs, run through NH Saves, help provide rebates for energy efficient appliances, provide financial assistance with renovations that save electricity, and weatherize homes.

The last three-year energy efficiency program that came in front of regulators in 2020 was ambitious, and included expanding the programs. The Public Utilities Commission rejected that plan, kicking off a long controversy culminating in a new state law that sets the budgets for energy efficiency programs with modest yearly increases.

The utilities and their regulators are now using that law to create this new plan. But how exactly that will work seemed to still be an open question at Wednesday’s hearing.

At one point, Daniel Goldner, the chair of the commission, said he was unsure about what exactly regulators were supposed to be deciding on. The statute says they need to approve “changes to program offerings,” but Goldner said he was unclear on whether that meant the addition of new programs, or smaller changes, like certain rebates utilities offer within programs.

Kate Peters, with Eversource, said the utilities were asking for the $253 million plan to be approved in its entirety.

The utilities also said they didn’t make large changes to the programs in this plan.

Marc Lemeneger, with Eversource, said the two main changes included the addition of a dedicated program for municipalities to sign up for energy efficiency measures and opening up a pilot program for active demand response to all utility customers.

Lemeneger said the programs they’re hoping to offer would benefit all customers.

“While participants in the programs benefit more directly from than non-participants, all New Hampshire businesses and residents can become program participants each and every year, and many do, as evidenced by the sustained popularity of the programs,” he said.

The plan has received support from a variety of stakeholders. Don Kreis, the state’s consumer advocate, made a blanket objection at the outset of the hearing, saying it wasn’t necessary to hold a hearing at all.

“We believe that there is nothing in controversy, no facts about the program offerings are in dispute,” he said.

Kreis objected to the idea that the commissioners intended to use a series of responses from the utility companies to a variety of questions regulators sent ahead of the hearing as part of their decision-making process, because no party in the hearing entered those question and answers into evidence.

Throughout the hearing, commissioners expressed uncertainty about various parts of the plan, including asking a variety of questions about how the utilities calculate costs and benefits of the programs

The hearing is set to continue Tuesday, Oct. 31.

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