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The fight over energy efficiency in New Hampshire, and how it affects you

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Dan Tuohy
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NHPR
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Editor's note: Here's what to read to understand what’s happening at the PUC regarding changes to energy efficiency and how that affects you. 

Bookmark this post to stay up to date with developments in this docket.

New Hampshire is making potential changes to energy efficiency that could have a major impact on the state. Things like weatherization and updating old appliances have upfront costs, but those efforts save money in the long run and cut down on fossil fuel use. In New Hampshire, many agree on the value of energy efficiency. But who should pay for it, and how much should they pay?

In mid-November, the state’s Public Utilities Commission rejected a three-year plan to expand energy efficiency programs in the state. That plan was supported by utility companies and other major stakeholders and would have cost about $350 million for NH Saves. That money comes from what’s known as the system benefits charge on customers’ electricity bills.

Instead, the PUC reversed course: decreasing the rates of funding for those programs and advocating for “market-based” energy efficiency programs. The commissioners said that the price of the original proposal was too high and would place “an enormous burden on New Hampshire ratepayers.” It also did away with performance incentives for utilities, which meant those companies would earn more if customers saved more.

The next week, some utilities halted some of their energy efficiency work and some said this would increase utility costs in the future. Contractors said the uncertainty meant they might have to lay off employees during the holidays. Advocates worried about all of this happening during the coldest part of the year when home heating costs are rising.

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Now, a similar coalition that put together that triennial plan is pushing back on PUC’s order. Earlier this month, clean energy advocates, the state’s utility companies, community action agencies and others filed a motion for rehearing. Clean Energy New Hampshire, energy efficiency contractors and the Town of Hanover sued the PUC, asking a court to issue a stay on the order and return energy efficiency funding back to 2020 levels. The Department of Energy also asked for a return to those funding levels, while the decision is reconsidered.

Gov. Chris Sununu and the Business and Industry Association have both expressed support for the efforts to push back on the PUC’s order. But both remain opposed to the levels of funding in the original proposal. Sununu says that it would harm small businesses, and the BIA wants a more “modest approach.”

“I think this has forced Granite Staters to think about whether these initiatives are important to ratepayers and to the public policy of the state,” Don Kreis, the state’s consumer advocate said. ”There seems to be consensus that in fact, this is good public policy and we should not reverse course and get rid of it.”

We’re keeping all our coverage of how this energy efficiency decision unfolds here.

What happens next? 

The Public Utilities Commission has 30 days to respond to the rehearing motions made on December 10, 2021.

Before the Commission is able to make decisions, they may need to appoint special commissioners. The commission has gone through a big shakeup in recent months, with two of the PUC’s three commissioners being newly confirmed after other commissioners left. Pradip Chattopadhyay, a new commissioner who formerly worked as the assistant Consumer Advocate, has said he won’t recuse himself from the docket, though the Consumer Advocate has now asked for recusal.

But Carleton Simpson, a former lawyer for Unitil, will likely need to because, according to the state’s consumer advocate, he worked on the docket in his previous role. Though only two commissioners are needed to sign orders at the PUC, the parties asking for a reconsideration of the order have asked for a full three-member commission to make decisions, saying they don’t want to risk a deadlock between two commissioners on an issue of “heightened importance.”

In the meantime, a hearing on Clean Energy New Hampshire’s lawsuit with the Public Utilities Commission has been scheduled for December 27, 2021.

Office of Consumer Advocate asks for disqualification of PUC member

December 17, 2021

The Office of the Consumer Advocate asked for Pradip Chattopadhyay, a recently confirmed Commissioner at the Public Utilities Commission, to be disqualified from participating in the decision-making on energy efficiency. Chattopadhyay previously worked in the Office of the Consumer Advocate, which joined with others to file a motion for rehearing on the PUC’s recent energy efficiency decision.

Chattopadhyay said in a memo that he wouldn’t recuse himself from the energy efficiency decision-making process, because he was not assigned to work on the energy efficiency proceedings as part of his job as the Assistant Consumer Advocate, though he attended office-wide staff meetings where some made reference to the plan. He said that he is not privy to any confidential information related to the energy efficiency plan, and that his prior employment has not led him to prejudge the issues.

“My prior employment with the OCA has no impact on my ability to participate in this docket fairly and impartially,” Chattopadhyay wrote.

On Thursday, the Office of the Consumer Advocate, led by Don Kreis, filed a motion for Commissioner Chattopadhyay to be disqualified from further participation in the docket, saying that his position was high-ranking within the department, and because of that, every matter taken up by the OCA was assigned to him while he was there. Kreis also said energy efficiency is one of the highest priorities at the OCA, and was discussed at nearly every weekly staff meeting since 2016, almost all of which Commissioner Chattopadhyay attended.

Kreis also noted that the Office of the Consumer Advocate requested in September that Commissioner Chattopadhyay be excluded from participating in the energy efficiency proceedings, before Chattopadhyay was promoted from Senior Advisor to PUC Commissioner.

December 16, 2021

Wednesday, Dec. 15 was the deadline for the state’s utilities to file updated energy efficiency budgets based on the PUC's November order. The day before the filing was due, the Commission issued an order in response to the multiple requests for stay, clarification, and rehearing of their order, and suspended two of the requirements – the utilities no longer had to file a spreadsheet with program and cost items larger than $500,000, and didn’t have to include program proposals with their budgets.

Utility companies filed their energy efficiency budgets, which reflected a decrease in the energy efficiency portion of the system benefits charge for the next two years as mandated by the order.

It’s a decrease of less than one cent per kilowatt-hour, which could add up to a few dollars in savings per month for the average residential customer. The system benefits charge isn’t the only source of funding for energy efficiency budgets, but it’s where most of the funding comes from, according to Wednesday’s filings. Eversource’s filings show revenues from the system benefits charge that could be used toward energy efficiency efforts are expected to decrease about $12 million between 2021 and 2022, and $7 million between 2022 and 2023.

Read previous coverage from the New Hampshire Bulletin on this issue here.

Copyright 2021 New Hampshire Public Radio. To see more, visit New Hampshire Public Radio.

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