NH Energy-Efficiency Policy Passes Through the Crucible
It may not have much else going for it, but 2021 was the year in which we learned that energy efficiency truly can be a winning political issue.
On November 12, the Public Utilities Commission, the body that sets electrical rates, issued a radical decision. They had been deliberating for nearly a year on whether to accept the New Hampshire utilities’ latest three-year energy efficiency plan: a consensus approach that had been agreed upon by a broad array of stakeholders. That plan—reflective of the empirical fact that investing in energy efficiency is cost-effective and prudent—included a substantial enhancement of the state’s policy ambition when it came to efficiency programs.
The PUC not only rejected the plan, but rejected the entire framework that the state’s energy-efficiency policies had been operating under for the previous half decade.
The response was immediate. The utilities shuttered the popular programs that they offer jointly under the banner of NHSaves. The most popular of these programs offers homeowners free energy audits and a 75 percent discount on $8000 worth of efficiency work, but there are many more, including programs for business owners and low-income households.
Our organization, Clean Energy NH, launched a lawsuit in response seeking an injunction on the order. While that lawsuit failed, we succeeded in stirring the pot. A cacophony of voices from across the political spectrum began to speak out against the PUC’s decision. At one point, I tried to keep track of all of the news and opinion pieces that were written about the order, but I gave up after the count crested to a few dozen. Even organizations that had not supported the now-rejected three-year efficiency plan—like the Business and Industry Association and Governor Sununu’s Department of Energy—wrote letters opposing the decision.
Simultaneously, the legal and political wheels sprung into motion. The same group of stakeholders that had crafted the three-year efficiency plan—which included clean energy advocates, ratepayer advocates, people representing low-income groups, and the utilities—jointly filed an official request that the PUC reconsider its decision. In the legislature, bill language that would right the apple cart was introduced in both chambers.
As of this writing, it seems that it’s the legislative solution that will reverse the decision most quickly. The first bill passed the New Hampshire House of Representatives unanimously, and after some tweaks to that will effectively wipe the PUC’s decision off the books, did the same in the Senate. The Senate version has the Governor’s endorsement, and seems to be on the fast track to become law.
Meanwhile, the Commission itself has dug in its heels. They obdurately rejected the motion for reconsideration and were promptly presented with three separate appeals of their decision to the NH Supreme Court. The silver lining of a decision so extreme is that it unites parties that sometimes are at loggerheads.
So, what to do, going forward? It will likely take at least a year before New Hampshire resumes any sort of progress towards an energy-efficiency policy that truly incentivizes residents to capture all of the wasted energy that makes economic sense for us to capture.
However, what this fight shows is that there is a large group of stakeholders who like energy-efficiency policies: homebuilders, business owners, ratepayer advocates, and even the utilities (assuming they are properly incentivized). Once the dust has settled, those stakeholders need to come back to the table and ask how the Granite State can start putting one foot in front of the other again and make progress on energy efficiency. It’s clear we have the political power to make that progress happen.
Sam Evans-Brown is the Executive Director of Clean Energy NH.