New Hampshire net metering bill remains in limbo

Published on March 31, 2020 by Jaclyn Brandt

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Net metering has become a contentious issue in New Hampshire, with the state legislature disagreeing with Gov. Chris Sununu on exactly what it should look like in the state.

Senate Bill (SB) 159 was the latest bill that was passed by the legislature but then vetoed by the governor. In early March, the veto was overridden by the state Senate in a vote of 17-7, but its fate is yet to be determined.

“I’m grateful that, in advance of town meeting day, we achieved a bipartisan Senate vote to override Governor Sununu’s veto of SB 159, the third bipartisan net metering proposal that he vetoed, this one meeting him more than halfway,” said Senate Majority Leader Dan Feltes. “Governor Sununu’s vetoes of clean energy, energy efficiency, and distributed generation in New Hampshire have led to New Hampshire having some of the highest energy bills in the country. It’s time to finally move forward with a comprehensive net metering plan — not pick energy winners and losers.”

SB 159 is similar to previous bills that have been vetoed by Gov. Sununu, in that it would expand the net metering limit in New Hampshire from 1 megawatt (MW) to 5 MWs. When the bill went through the House, it was amended by lawmakers in an attempt at a compromise with the governor. Those amendments included increasing the amount of electricity staying in cities or businesses from 20 to 50 percent, power that would have otherwise been fed back to power companies.

In his veto message, Gov. Sununu said he felt the bill would cost taxpayers millions of dollars.

“Senate Bill 159 is nearly identical to two bills that were vetoed and sustained in previous legislative sessions,” Sununu wrote. “The proponents of this bill claim to have made a compromise when it fact it still would result in hundreds of millions of dollars in higher electric rates for our citizens. These costs would be felt most by low-income families and seniors in New Hampshire, and that is not acceptable.”

The bill is next slated to move to the House for a veto override, but it did not vote on the bill before the New Hampshire Legislature suspended activities due to COVID-19 — a suspension that is in place until May 4.

New Hampshire utility Eversource has been following the bill but said the company has already been working to bring solar to the state.

“At Eversource, we’re focused on innovative solutions that lower costs for customers, improve reliability and advance clean energy – including as much responsible expansion of solar as possible. This includes a comprehensive evaluation of how distributed energy resources like solar are best deployed to maximize benefits for all-electric customers and in a way that maintains or improves reliability,” said William Hinkle, media relations manager with Eversource. “The New Hampshire Public Utilities Commission is currently conducting two analyses to evaluate how we achieve those goals. These analyses should be completed and the results should be used to help inform how we can best expand solar in New Hampshire.”

The utility is awaiting the results of the PUC’s reports, but Hinkle said they’re “concerned that SB 159 will have a disproportionate financial impact on cost increases for Eversource customers (particularly low-income customers) and includes ambiguous language that allows generators – not just customer generators – to participate in net metering without contributing to load reduction.”

Gov. Sununu said he supports net metering legislation, but only if it doesn’t cost all ratepayers, including a bill that would separate municipal net metering from business or industrial net metering, with different regulations for each. Many legislators support legislation that would allow businesses to produce only a small amount of excess electricity, so it does not become a profit center for them.

The governor said he is committed to finding a compromise.

“We have the opportunity to move forward with a smarter clean energy policy, done the New Hampshire way,” he said. “I have worked with legislators to propose new legislation that expands access to net metering for cities, towns, and businesses and still lower their electricity bills. Let’s work together and pass common ground net metering legislation to create smart clean energy opportunities for our state.”

Like many others involved in SB 159, Eversource is also looking for a good compromise for the growth of solar in New Hampshire.

“We believe that the affordable expansion of solar and other distributed energy resources is possible, but it must be done so responsibly with a focus on maximizing benefits for all customers and ensuring reliability,” Hinkle said. “The pending analyses have an important role in those efforts, and we’re hopeful for an integrated approach to our clean energy future.”