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Citing Economic Fears, House Republicans Call On PUC To Postpone 2021 Energy Efficiency Plan

Annie Ropeik

Citing pandemic-driven economic concerns, top Republican state lawmakers are asking the Public Utilities Commission to put off the adoption of more aggressive energy efficiency goals, currently set to take effect at the start of next year.

The letter, sent Monday from incoming House majority leader Dick Hinch and incumbent Republicans on the House Science, Technology and Energy Committee, calls on the PUC to “indefinitely postpone implementation” of the next three-year statewide energy efficiency plan.

The efficiency plan is a proposal from the state’s utilities – Eversource, Liberty, Unitil and the New Hampshire Electric Cooperative – for electric and gas savings goals in 2021 to 2023, mostly through the rebates, audits and incentives offered by the NHSaves program.

The proposal is more aggressive than past versions, aiming to reduce electricity sales by 5% and gas sales by 3% at a three-year cost of about $367 million.

The utilities say these cuts will create jobs and enable all kinds of customers to buy less energy, ultimately saving them $1.3 billion or more than three times what the plan costs. 

They say it will create jobs and business opportunities in weatherization and efficiency upgrades, free up business and municipal revenues to cover other services and improvements, and save residents money to reinvest in their local economies.

The utilities also expect the plan to improve public health and fight climate change by preventing the equivalent carbon emissions of more than half a million average homes’ annual energy use, according to an Environmental Protection Agency calculator.

The House Republicans, in their letter, argue these long-term savings goals are not worth the short-term costs the plan will carry for manufacturers, small businesses such as restaurants and municipalities hard-hit by the economic downturn of COVID-19.

“Now is not the time to impose $100 million-dollar annual cost-increases on our state's ratepayers with the hopes that we achieve cost savings for everyone at a later date,” the lawmakers wrote.

The PUC declined a request for comment Monday on how it will respond to the letter.

A key deadline in the PUC's approval of the plan, which has been in the works for years, is coming up on Thursday. Utilities want the plan finalized by Dec. 28 so it can take effect on customers’ January 2021 bills.

The efficiency plan is partly funded through the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative and ISO-New England, the regional grid manager. But the majority is paid for through a fee on utility customers’ monthly bills, known as the system benefits charge.

Credit NHSaves / Twitter
The NHSaves program offers rebates, audits and other incentives to help meet the utilities' efficiency goals.

Under a recently passed state law spearheaded by Republicans, the legislature will take control of that fee in 2022.

But initially, under this new efficiency plan, the charge would increase less than 1% per year for residential ratepayers, and just over 3% per year for commercial and industrial customers, a category that includes municipalities.

For average residential customers of Eversource, the state's largest utility, this represents less than a dollar per month – for a total increase of between about $2 and $9 per year from 2021 to 2023.

For Eversource's commercial and industrial customers, the increase is between about $50 and $60 per month, totaling several hundred dollars in added utility costs for each of the next three years. The increases are comparable for the state's other utilities.

The Republicans' letter echoes concerns raised recently by the state Business and Industry Association, which often sides with conservative lawmakers, resisting major investments in renewable energy, energy efficiency and other climate change responses.

The energy efficiency debate could be in the spotlight as the BIA holds its annual energy conference virtually on Tuesday -- and could dominate the conversation in Concord over the next two years, under Republican control of state government cemented in the 2020 election.

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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