The Executive Council heard more from Governor Chris Sununu’s nominee to the Public Utilities Commission at a hearing Wednesday.
The Public Utilities Commission is made up of three commissioners that oversee electric, natural gas, water and sewer utilities. It’s often a place where state energy policy is carried out.
As a result, the PUC also helps shape New Hampshire's response to climate change. The state does not have a Department of Energy, something Democrats have pushed to change and which Gov. Sununu included in his proposed budget this year.
Right now, the PUC helps other state agencies oversee the details of many climate-related policies -- including renewable energy goals and rates, electric vehicle adoption and more.
The governor’s PUC nominee, Manchester resident Dan Goldner, spent most of his career working at Texas Instruments, which manufactures semiconductors. Now retired, Goldner, a Republican, ran unsuccessfully for a State House seat last year.
During Wednesday’s hearing, Goldner highlighted his experience working in finance and technical fields, and his training as a mechanical engineer.
“My motivation and my goal are to apply my skills and experience I’ve built over the years in service to others,” he said.
Goldner said, if confirmed, he’d want to understand why New Hampshire and New England have some of the highest utility rates in the country and what can be done about it.
Cinde Warmington, a Democrat representing District 2 on the Council, asked Goldner a range of questions about the PUC’s role in energy efficiency, and in encouraging the development of distributed energy and clean transportation technology.
A delayed decision from the PUC on a proposed energy efficiency plan has forced at least one utility to put a pause on one of its rebate programs, and some weatherization contractors around the state are feeling the effects of that.
What’s known as the Systems Benefit Charge on customers’ bills funds New Hampshire’s energy efficiency programs.
When asked if he supported the use of the Systems Benefit Charge for increasing energy efficiency, Goldner said that it’s “sliced into different pieces, where there’s different groups that benefit from the Systems Benefit Charge. What I would say about that, is that if it’s already the law, and as a PUC commissioner it would be your job to enforce the law.”
Warmington also asked Goldner if he believed that climate change “presents a threat to our planet, and do you believe we need to end our dependence on fossil fuel?”
Goldner said that “the earth’s natural cycle has produced warmer and colder climates over thousands or millions of years.”
“Determining the magnitude of man-made effects on the earth’s natural cycles would likely be left to the legislature,” he said. “If the fact finding is delegated to the PUC, I would want to hear from a broad array of field experts to hear their assumptions and analysis affecting their modeling.”
Scientists in New Hampshire and elsewhere say the evidence is clear that human actions are driving the severity of the climate change we’re experiencing now, and will see in the future.
Goldner struck a similar tone on the subject to how Gov. Sununu often spoke about climate change several years ago. Sununu has since become more accepting of climate science and supports some renewable energy development as a means of mitigating it.
If confirmed, this would be Goldner’s first time in a public position. Republican Councilor Joe Kenney asked Goldner if he saw that as a benefit or a deficit.
“I see that as a benefit,” he said. “From the perspective of what I’d like to bring to the role -- as a fresh set of eyes, somebody who hasn’t done this before, and somebody who works hard, is a learner and is going to contribute.”
Goldner said he does not have previous experience in energy markets. Some members of the public who oppose Goldner’s nomination said that concerned them.
“Why are you hiring a man outside of the energy field?” asked Mark Watson, who lives in Eaton. “He sounds like his resume is fantastic in his field. But we need somebody with the experience, ready to go today. We don’t have time to teach somebody the job.”
Other members of the public, including two people with ties to NH Wind Watch, a non-profit that opposes industrial wind development, said that the fact that Goldner has a farm in the Midwest with two industrial wind turbines raises concerns about his objectivity regarding that corner of the energy market.
The earliest Goldner could be confirmed to the PUC is at the next Executive Council meeting on May 5.