- New Hampshire utilities and clean energy groups are vowing to appeal a state Public Utilities Commission (PUC) decision to reject a $350 million energy efficiency spending plan for electric utilities.
- In a decision late Friday, the PUC denied a three-year plan that would have increased funding for rebates and incentives to homeowners and businesses that adopt energy efficiency measures. Under the order, rates that fund the efficiency program would instead be lowered to their 2017 levels by 2023.
- State Consumer Advocate Don Kreis told Utility Dive the decision was "the most remarkable, outrageous, uncalled for and frankly astonishing thing I have seen any utility regulator do anywhere," adding that it would "decimate the state's efficiency programs." Kreis said he and other supporters of the program plan to seek a rehearing, the first step in the appeals process, and may also seek legislation to reinstate the program.
A coalition of electric and gas utilities, along with ratepayer advocates and environmental groups, reached a settlement agreement last year that would raise the system benefits charge (SBC) over three years to support additional rebates and incentives for energy efficiency installations under the NHSaves program. The plan also called for utilities to reduce electricity sales by about 4.5% and natural gas sales by nearly 3% over three years.
The PUC, however, said that the settling parties failed to show how the program spending and rate increases are "just, reasonable and in the public interest." The rate-payer funded and utility-sponsored programs, the order said, would place "an enormous burden on New Hampshire ratepayers" and instead called for a program "returning to the intended transition to market-based energy efficiency."
The order was signed by then-chairwoman Dianne Martin, who stepped down the same day after serving just two years of a six-year term, and Daniel Goldner, who is replacing Martin as PUC chair.
Utilities and clean energy groups expressed confusion and outrage at the decision. William Hinkle, spokesman for Eversource, the state's largest utility, said the company was concerned that the order "will have a negative impact on our customers, the small businesses working across New Hampshire to help deliver these solutions, and our economy."
"We continue to believe that robust, cost-effective energy efficiency solutions should be available and accessible to all customers, and we'll continue to closely review the order with that as our primary focus while evaluating next steps," Hinkle said.
Sam Evans-Brown, executive director of the nonprofit Clean Energy New Hampshire, said the decision was especially troubling as New Hampshire heads into a winter where energy costs are expected to be higher than normal.
"This takes away one tool that ratepayers have, which is to reduce their bills by reducing the amount of energy they use," Evans-Brown said. "It flies in the face of every energy document New Hampshire has put out in the past decade."
Some business groups had raised concerns about the increases in SBC. The Business and Industry Association, the state's chamber of commerce, wrote in a comment last year that the potential savings would not outweigh the rate increases for businesses, especially in a state where electricity prices for industrial customers were 80% higher than the national average according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.
Evans-Brown said that the supporters will seek "every possible recourse" to restore the program. A rehearing, which must be called within 30 days of the decision, would be the first step in potentially having a court overturn the decision. Kreis, head of the consumer advocate's office, also said that Gov. Chris Sununu, R, and most lawmakers have supported energy efficiency programs and could pass a new program through the legislature.
A failure to restore the program, Kreis said, could have a significant economic impact by turning away energy efficiency companies and clean energy workers. The state ranked 18th in the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy's 2020 Energy Efficiency Resource Standard rankings, a measure of how successful state spending and policies are in promoting energy efficiency.
"This should provoke outrage and concern everywhere in the country," Kreis said. "New England is typically a hotbed for efficiency. If a state like New Hampshire can walk away from it the way our PUC has, it's terribly worrisome for everyone."