Without much fanfare, New Hampshire lawmakers took important steps in 2014 toward clean energy progress. This spring, the legislature completed what is arguably the most successful session for energy issues in many years with a series of significant bills each addressing different parts of the clean energy puzzle: a pathway to ending the state’s inexcusable subsidies for its two coal plants, scaling up energy efficiency, reforming the process and standards for siting new energy facilities, ensuring sound utility planning, and protecting our natural resources from the ongoing risks of fossil fuels. Notably, this work steered clear of the risky and controversial gas and transmission infrastructure plans that captured most energy headlines. With Governor Hassan’s signatures this summer, these bills are now New Hampshire law:
PSNH Divestiture: New Hampshire’s single biggest clean energy opportunity is the new pathway, established by House Bill 1602, that could lead to the sale and eventual retirement of PSNH’s coal-fired power plants in Bow and Portsmouth. As CLF highlighted when the bill passed, these old and inefficient plants—historically, New Hampshire’s largest sources of toxic and carbon pollution—have no prospect of providing net benefits to customers, who are now subsidizing the plants by tens of millions of dollars per year. Now the Public Utilities Commission has a clear mandate to open a proceeding and compel PSNH to take appropriate steps to sell the plants, which will then be forced to compete with cleaner, cheaper resources in the marketplace.
Energy Efficiency and C-PACE: In June, CLF profiled the two major bills focusing on energy efficiency, our cheapest and cleanest energy resource. With House Bill 1129, New Hampshire continues its progress toward implementing an Energy Efficiency Resource Standard, which would allow the state to capture much greater levels of cost-effective energy efficiency; the bill creates a stakeholder process to develop energy efficiency goals and policies, including legislation for consideration in 2015, and encourages state government to increase its own efficiency efforts. House Bill 532 provides a major boost to privately funded energy efficiency projects using the property assessment financing known as C-PACE, substantially raising the former cap on such projects. A third bill, Senate Bill 268, helps channel funds available for energy efficiency to proven programs that were at risk of shutting down and to municipal energy efficiency projects, many of which are shovel-ready. As CLF has pointed out, New Hampshire is lagging the rest of New England in energy efficiency, and these new laws are important steps along the road to changing that.
Senate Bill 245: CLF summarized this major bipartisan reform of the state’s energy facility siting law after it passed the Senate in March. Under the leadership of Representative Amanda Merrill and others, the House made many technical improvements to the bill, through a process that continued to be an unusual example of collaboration and compromise among very diverse stakeholders, including CLF. Despite the changes, its core remained: the addition of non-agency members and a professional staff to the committee charged with reviewing projects, a reduction in the committee’s overall size, increased opportunities for public participation, and the requirement that all large energy projects affirmatively “serve the public interest.” For wind farm projects, the legislature—in a section of the PSNH divestiture bill—offered a strong endorsement of their potential role in the state’s future energy portfolio and provided some clarity on the issues that must be considered by the siting committee when it sets rules for such projects.
Other bills: In House Bill 1540, the legislature approved changes to the statute governing utility long-range planning to modernize the requirements and ensure full consideration of energy efficiency, grid modernization, and distributed generation. And in House Bills 1224 and 1376 and Senate Bill 325, the legislature focused on addressing the risks of transporting fossil fuels by pipeline and rail, through increased state regulatory oversight over oil pipelines and initiating a full legislative review of the safety requirements for oil and gas transportation.
The State House isn’t the only place we’re seeing progress. The New Hampshire Office of Energy and Planning and a council of state officials are working on a state energy strategy that, judging from the draft released in May, is likely to prioritize local, small-scale, and climate-friendly energy solutions. And the state’s Public Utilities Commission (“PUC”) is finalizing regulations that should help kick-start adoption of group net metering, a way for communities and other groups to invest in clean, distributed energy projects that would be too large for a single individual or business to take on. The PUC also is working to develop a framework for advancing an Energy Efficiency Resource Standard, which will help chart the course for the stakeholder process under House Bill 1129 and eventual adoption of a strong energy efficiency goal.
What these efforts have in common is that they together set the table for the bold actions that will be necessary for New Hampshire to live up to our aspirations to become a real leader in clean energy innovation and energy conservation and to mount a meaningful response to climate change. It will be up to everyone—from lawmakers and regulators to advocates, businesses, and ordinary homeowners—to take our seats and engage together in the hard work to make a thriving clean energy future a reality for the Granite State.