In 2009, Governor Lynch asked the Office of Energy Planning to create Climate Action Plan, to protect citizens, the economy, property and the environment, going forward. That plan was based on science and economics and it gave us a roadmap for minimizing the worst predicted economic and environmental outcomes. In 1997, NH was the first to deregulate our largest electric utility, PSNH, saying that we wanted greater market competition, rather than utility monopoly; this meant utilities would no longer control both the generation and delivery of electricity.
In 2014, Governor Hassan signed a bill to approve how deregulation would be accomplished, with divestiture, or sale of PSNH assets, in order to open up the free market competition that would help drive down prices. Fuel diversity was identified as our hedge against future price gouging. And growing homegrown energy independence meant less reliance on pipelines and out of state fuel. We were also going to invest in energy efficiency, to lower our demand, while adding to our local, sustainable energy supply. Economists provided the analysis that this plan would save us all money on our electric bills. Government did its job and it wasn’t that complicated.
Governor Sununu took office in 2017, and eliminated the Office of Energy Planning, leaving the state without energy guidance for a full 4 years. In that time, Sununu maneuvered the GOP House caucus to uphold his veto killing New Hampshire’s biomass industry (HB183 -2019). Biomass isn’t perfect, but it was local, renewable, and sustainable; it gave value to low grade timber and large tracks of land, keeping both in local control. This move killed jobs in the multi-million dollar forestry industry and moved the biomass sliver of the energy portfolio over to higher gas dependence. In hearings, businessmen and the Society for the Protection of NH Forests testified that every county in NH would suffer economic fallout if we closed our biomass plants. We had bipartisan support, and a veto-proof majority before Governor Sununu talked the House GOP into changing votes to ensure they didn’t ‘give Democrats the win’ heading into to the 2020 election. The Governor got his wish; biomass plants closed, and the Republicans were put back in power. But the story of politics over good policy was not one that rose to the public’s attention. This is one of the actions taken by Sununu, that led to so many of our eggs being placed in the gas power-plant basket. It didn’t have to be this way.
Here’s the kicker, since electric rates doubled in August of 2022, Republicans are now declaring the future of NH energy is biomass! They can only be this bold, whipsawing our economy and reinstating solutions they worked to kill, because they suffer no reckoning for what has been a shameless management of our energy sector.
The current Republican House has been hostile to making solar affordable by using an argument that somehow my installing solar panels will cost you money. The long awaited Value of Distributed Energy Resources (VDER) report at the Public Utilities Commission will drop later in October to answer this very question. A recent preview of the main points shows the only evidence of cost-shifting, if you push conservative estimates, is maybe 1%. Yet the cost of electricity without local solar offsets, just jumped over 100%. So again, we’ve been stuck with inaction, based on a false premise, and that helped gas gain a higher share of our electric mix. We’re all paying for these missteps.
Another rejection of common wisdom came when the GOP opted to drastically cut funding of efficiency efforts known as New Hampshire Saves. This program supplies a Return on Investment (ROI) to the NH economy that comes close to 4-1 for every dollar invested. The other no-brainer for supporting Energy Efficiency is that once you eliminate the need for a watt of energy, you never have to import fuel or pay for it again. Under the Sununu administration, we defunded NH Saves and had to fight to reinstate part of the planned funding (HB549 2022), I spoke on the House floor on HB549 to get my caucus to go along with this imperfect bill, so that small energy efficiency company employees would not lose their jobs at Christmas 2021; this is another example of bad policy that had to be reversed because it cost NH jobs. In the press, those of us who are watching closely, had to stand by and watch as Republicans took a lap, declaring victory for fixing a problem they caused.
The Sununu family still supports big oil, a legacy that started when John Sununu senior was Chief of Staff to George W. Bush. I have seen Michael Sununu testifying in my committee and noted that both Michael and James Sununu were board members for groups that lobby for fossil fuel interests in Concord and beyond. It is amazing to me that we can watch smart policies be reversed for political gains, while our governor and his family, do this in plain sight, and there have been no consequence for bad actions or outcomes. They just lie and blame the other guy.
New Hampshire’s way forward on energy policy is not complicated. It is being complicated by people who are serving themselves, not us. We can do better. We can vote better.
Stand Up for a return to the sound economics of science-based energy policy.