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Community and Market-Based Renewable Energy Legislation Prevails

NH State House in Concord. (Wikimedia)

Commendation for Enduring Cross-Party Energy Leadership, Sen. Jeb Bradley and Hon. Clifton Below1

Henry Herndon

It has been a dramatic legislative session for those who follow energy policy in New Hampshire. As the dust settles, one particularly consequential energy bill emerges from the scrum and makes its way to the finish-line at Governor Sununu’s desk.

The key energy bill of the session, House Bill 315, will catalyze serious gains in New Hampshire-based renewable energy development that directly benefits our cities, towns, counties and communities.

House Bill 315: From Villain to Hero

If House Bill 315 were a living thing, it would be a kind of happy Frankenstein. The bill was born an evil little monster whose effect would have been to kill New Hampshire’s Community Power market in its cradle. But as a result of cacophonous public backlash and a series of transformative surgeries (amendments) – including the Senate attaching language quintupling the size of renewable energy projects public entities may develop under net metering – the bill was born again as the hero of New Hampshire energy policy.

House Bill 315 comingles two distinct policies: Community Power and Municipal Net Metering. Let’s take them one at a time.

Local Control & Markets Over Regulation: Community Power, the New Hampshire Way

As a result of the substantial public pressure and an encouraging letter from the Governor himself, House Science, Technology & Energy Committee Chairman Michael Vose partnered with Lebanon Assistant Mayor Clifton Below to amend House Bill 315 through a consensus building stakeholder process. The Honorable Clifton Below, longtime guru of NH energy legislation, is currently helping lead the formation of Community Power Coalition of New Hampshire, a public nonprofit supporting cities and towns to launch Community Power programs.

The Vose-Below amendment transformed House Bill 315 from something that would have dismantled Community Power into something that clarified the regulatory process to ensure successful launch of this exciting new market with broad bipartisan stakeholder support.

Community Power is New Hampshire’s last best chance to demonstrate that markets are still superior to state mandates and regulation when it comes to modern energy policy. It is a policy that gives municipalities and counties the local control to procure electricity from the competitive market on behalf of their residents and businesses that don’t choose a competitive supplier. Community Power lets each city or town to choose for itself whether it wishes to prioritize minimizing short-term rates, developing local renewable energy projects, or expanding innovative retail options for customers to adopt small-scale solar, storage, or other energy technologies.

New Hampshire stands apart in New England when it comes to energy policy. We spend the least on energy efficiency. Our renewable energy goals under the Renewable Portfolio Standard are pathetically low compared to our neighbors. We do far less as a state to incentivize and subsidize clean energy.

The other New England states have embraced top-down regulation and mandates as their main tools to bend markets towards clean energy. With Community Power, New Hampshire has an opportunity to chart a path that relies instead on expanded market competition and local control as tools to enable the clean energy transformation. Cities and towns that implement Community Power programs become the masters of their own energy destinies, free to develop their own local renewable energy if they so choose.

Doubling Down: Public Renewable Energy via Net Metering Expansion

After the Vose-Below amendment, House Bill 315 received a unanimous bipartisan vote of “Ought to Pass with Amendment” from the House ST&E. It emerged from the House floor a shiny symbol of must-pass energy legislation.

Senators Avard (R), Bradley (R) and Watters (D) saw an opportunity to double down and use the bill to advance another energy issue that NH municipalities have been clamoring for for several years now: net metering expansion.

The Senate amended House Bill 315 to quintuple the allowed size of renewable energy projects that can be developed via net metering by municipalities, counties, schools and other political subdivision of the state from 1 megawatt to 5 megawatts. This policy is likely to result in significant development of renewable energy projects that power public facilities.

Enduring Energy Leadership: Senator Jeb Bradley and the Honorable Clifton Below

While the House initially called a Committee of Conference on the bill, throwing into question its chances of survival, Senate Majority Leader Jeb Bradley, the Honorable Clifton Below and other legislative champions rallied to hammer out yet another compromise, this time on SB 91, that ensured HB 315’s safe passage to Governor Sununu’s desk. The Governor is expected to sign both bills on August 3. There is some good bipartisan energy legislation in SB 91 as well, but that is another story.

Bradley and Below have an enduring history of cross-party energy leadership. Collaborations between the two statesmen over the past quarter-century include: enactment of RSA 374-F, Electric Utility Restructuring; enactment of and numerous updates to RSA 362-A:9, Net Metering and Group Net Metering; enactment of RSA 125-O, Multiple Pollutant Reduction Program (related to the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative and reducing carbon dioxide emissions from the power sector); revisions to RSA 362-F, Renewable Portfolio Standard; and the 2019 update to RSA 53-E, the Community Power Act. Thanks largely to their leadership, alongside leadership in the corner office and that of Rep. Vose on down to the grassroots, New Hampshire will be taking a key step forward on energy policy this session.

Henry Herndon is an energy professional working with leading communities to launch New Hampshire’s Community Power market.

1 Below was a NH State Representative from 1992-1998, State Senator 1998-2004, and NH PUC Commissioner 2005-2012. He Is currently Assistant Mayor of the City of Lebanon.

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