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FERC Rejects Conservative N.H. Group's Petition Against Net Energy Metering

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Federal regulators have declined to act on a challenge to a pro-solar energy law from a group with ties to conservative New Hampshire politics and Gov. Chris Sununu.

The New England Ratepayers Association’s petition to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission dealt with net metering, where customers can generate and sell their own, often renewable power back to the grid to save on their utility bills.

NERA argues this raises costs for ratepayers – a claim regulators dispute. The group asked FERC to issue an order that would shift control of net metering away from states and onto the federal government.

The petition drew hundreds of opposing comments, including from New England state agencies and members of Congress, as well as energy companies, nonprofits and individuals. A handful of utility interest groups supported it.

FERC unanimously dismissed the case Thursday on procedural grounds, saying the petition did “not identify a specific controversy or harm that the Commission should address in a declaratory order to terminate a controversy or to remove uncertainty,” as precedent would have required.

In separate concurrences, two FERC commissioners appointed by President Trump indicated that they feel NERA’s concerns are worth further discussion.

“I am certain that these are questions of profound importance and the Commission will eventually have to address them,” wrote James Danly, whose appointment this spring gave FERC a Republican majority, shortly before NERA filed its petition.

Sen. Maggie Hassan applauded FERC’s rejection of the petition in a statement with colleagues from Rhode Island and New Mexico. The three organized a letter from members of Congress opposing the NERA request, sent to FERC in May.  

“The petition, pushed by a shadowy group, could have undone 45 existing state policies and raised energy costs, undermining the renewable energy industry at a time when our economy is already so fragile amid the COVID-19 pandemic,” the statement says.

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NERA generally does not disclose its members, but one filed an affidavit as part of the FERC case: Geoffrey Mitchell, a utility consultant, former gas executive, and customer of Unitil.

Mitchell told FERC he was adversely affected by net metering as a ratepayer, but watchdog groups like the Energy & Policy Institute and Public Citizen argue he’s more aligned with utility interests than with individual ratepayers.

Governor Sununu in late 2018 unsuccessfully sought to appoint Mitchell, who lives in Exeter, to the state Site Evaluation Committee, which approves large energy construction projects. The nomination was voted down by the Executive Council.

Mitchell is listed among the board of directors of a legal defense fund associated with NERA, along with two Republican state legislators, Reps. Michael Harrington and Michael Vose. Harrington is, and Vose used to be, part of the state House of Representatives energy committee.

The legal defense fund also lists James and Michael Sununu as directors. The two Sununu brothers, who help run the family business, were previously listed as directors of NERA itself.

The group’s 2020 report to the state now only lists lobbyist Marc Brown as a director.

Brown did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the FERC ruling Thursday.

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Annie has covered the environment, energy, climate change and the Seacoast region for NHPR since 2017. She leads the newsroom's climate reporting project, By Degrees.

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