In the last session, advocates were forced to counter efforts to stymie progress.
Kelly Buchanan and Sam Evans-Brown
The 2022 legislative session started early when it comes to energy policy. In November 2021, after nearly a year of delay, state regulators issued an order that would have completely dismantled the state’s energy-efficiency incentives. The order upended nearly a decade of policy and programmatic progress for the energy-efficiency programs: work stopped, trucks were grounded, and efficiency contractors were pitched into a world of uncertainty.
However, a broad coalition came together in the beginning of the 2022 legislative session to fast-track and pass a bill, House Bill 549, that salvages and attempts to future-proof the energy-efficiency programs. This was the theme in the 2022 session. Clean energy advocates managed to play defense to ensure existing policies remained in place, but struggled to gain support for new, innovative clean energy policies.
Net metering, the ability to roll your electric meter backwards and sell electricity onto the grid, is the bedrock of the business model for small-scale renewable generation. House Republicans led efforts to reduce the net-metering credit through two bills: House Bill 1599 and House Bill 1629.
Both bills would have reduced the value of electricity sold back to the utility, which is already the lowest in New England. But there was little appetite for tinkering with the net-metering credit in the Senate. The senators agreed to wait for the results of a highly anticipated Value of Distributed Energy Resources study expected from the Public Utilities Commission no later than May 31 before making any drastic changes. To date, the study results have not been released, and they are now more than a month late. Stakeholders predict the eventual release of the study results will kick off a new process that will once again revisit how much to pay small renewable generators, which is likely to be a long and drawn-out fight.
On a brighter note, Republican Senator Kevin Avard led the way on two progressive clean energy bills proposed this year. Senate Bill 262, as originally drafted, would have allowed larger projects to net-meter, meaning the state’s medium and large businesses could better control the cost of their energy. However, the bill was amended by the House to only include a study on the rising and uneven costs of interconnection of renewable energy resources in New Hampshire and fix a technicality that has prohibited some early municipal adopters of renewable energy from benefiting from newer, community-scale renewable projects.
Finally, several bills were proposed that aimed to unlock the potential of the new five-megawatt cap for municipally net-metered projects, which was passed last year. While the original proposal would have included universities and housing authorities in the new expanded net-metering program, that language was sidelined by the House of Representatives. The Senate revived a compromise version that will only allow the state government to benefit from the higher cap.
Renewable energy development
This session, the solar industry faced a challenging and premature effort to impose a requirement for solar panel take-back and recycling. HB 1459 would have required the Department of Environmental Services to establish a program, approve plans submitted by solar installers for a fee and ensure compliance with the program. Each unit sold in violation of the requirements would face up to a $10,000 fine. After passing through the House, the bill failed in the Senate after the NH Department of Environmental Services expressed opposition due to concerns about how to administer the program and whether it was warranted.
Two Senate bills passed this year to improve access to renewable energy. SB 321 enables a pilot program to expand distributed generation between one and five MW that could create a new business model for community-scale renewable energy projects. SB 270 creates a new low and moderate-income community solar program, which would create community solar projects and automatically assign income-qualified customers to receive the benefit.
As written, the bill will require the Department of Energy to develop a process to select eligible participants from the Electric Assistance Program, with help from New Hampshire utilities.
Electric vehicle legislation
Interest in electric vehicles (EV) is taking off in New Hampshire, but the General Court failed to move forward even the most simplistic EV legislation in 2022.
SB 417, a pilot program for electric school buses, and SB 447, establishing a fund for federal EV money at the NH Department of Transportation, both left their House committees without recommendation. When these bills went to the House floor, they were tabled without an opportunity for further debate.
The 2022 session presented plentiful opportunities for playing defense, but few moments of real clean energy progress. As we look forward to 2023, we hope legislators and Granite Staters alike will step up to accelerate the clean energy transition.
Reprinted with permission from the NH Business Review
Kelly Buchanan is director of legislative and regulatory affairs for Clean Energy NH. Sam Evans-Brown is executive director of Clean Energy NH.