Concentration of CO2 in the Atmosphere

NH Saves Is Back Before the PUC

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NH Saves Is Back Before the PUC

Sam Evans-Brown

Imagine you could go to the store and purchase a coupon for one dollar, and that coupon provides you with two dollars and twenty-seven cents. It’s likely the stores offering these coupons wouldn’t be able to keep them in stock. Savvy shoppers would scoop them up by the armload and the staff at the store may have to limit customers from taking too many.

This imaginary scenario is of course absurd, but in broad strokes it also describes New Hampshire’s energy efficiency policies, which operate under the brand name “NHSaves.” The next iteration of the state’s three-year energy efficiency plan was just approved by state regulators on November 30th, and the programs as a whole are forecast to generate $2.27 in benefits for Granite Staters for every dollar invested.

Considering the cost-effectiveness of these programs, perhaps it’s no surprise that New Hampshire’s lawmakers have now twice voted unanimously that they want to make these coupons available to the state’s savvy shoppers. The last time the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) was given the opportunity to weigh in on the state’s efficiency programs, back in 2021, the politically appointed commissioners used their order to attempt to dismantle NHSaves. As a result, in 2022 and 2023, the legislature voted to pass two bills which have sent a crystal clear message to the state’s regulators that New Hampshire wants to keep the shelves stocked with money-saving energy-efficiency offerings. Thanks to this bipartisan support, state regulators were more or less obligated to approve this latest three-year plan, as they acknowledged in their order.

The program offerings represent stability and continuity. Over the course of 2024-2026, the three-year plan will offer financial assistance to encourage nearly 5,000 new homes to be built above code, including many being built as close to net-zero-ready standards as possible, and will assist more than 11,000 homeowners to add insulation to their existing homes, of which nearly one third will be low-income households. These programs will also help cut the costs of more nearly 40,000 businesses and municipal energy consumers.

The plan includes important innovations too. If the plan is approved, New Hampshire residents and businesses will be paid to use various technologies, including back-up batteries that they’ve purchased to weather New Hampshire’s frequent storm-induced outages on sunny days, too. Batteries that are enrolled in the program will be discharged into the grid during times when more energy is needed, avoiding having to buy electricity when it’s most expensive. Over the course of three years, more than 13,500 residents and 419 businesses are expected to enroll in these “Active Demand Response” programs. And this program is particularly cost-effective. Each dollar invested in incentives encouraging business to participate creates up to four dollars of benefit.

If the past two years have taught us anything, it’s that New England’s energy prices are increasingly exposed to global energy markets. Our electricity prices are driven almost entirely by natural gas prices, we’re located at the very end of the existing gas infrastructure, and American natural gas is increasingly exported overseas to Europe. As a result, New England has found itself in the unenviable position of having our economy yoked to the swings of geopolitics, and the whims of strong-man dictators in petrostates all over the world. The most meaningful immediate term action any of us can do to reduce our exposure to these forces is to simply use less fossil fuels. Energy efficiency is our first, best option in that regard.

This need is particularly pressing when you look at how much new electricity demand is expected in the years to come. Currently, there are around 10,000 electric vehicles registered in New Hampshire, but that number is set to increase to more than 165,000 ten years from now. Over that same time frame, the increasing electrification of heating load is expected to add as much as 271 MW of winter heating demand to the electric grid, equivalent to the capacity of brand-new, medium-sized power plant. If we’re going to meet this growing demand as affordably as we can, we’ll need to invest as many of those money-saving efficiency coupons as we can get our hands on.

While the drama-free approval of this latest plan is a welcome development, PUC Commissioner Carleton Simpson wrote the following regarding his decision to approve the plan, “While I support the Plan as filed, our work is not complete. In future triennial plans or program updates, I hope to see more analysis and development around the integration of renewable and distributed energy resources, energy storage, managed electric vehicle charging, and smart controls to optimize efficiencies and coordination between the electric and natural gas networks.”

Indeed, these need to be the marching orders for NH utilities, policymakers, clean energy advocates, and anyone who is serious about wanting to decrease our emissions and the amount we spend on energy in the Granite State.

Sam Evans-Brown is the executive director of Clean Energy NH.

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