Governor Sununu’s energy policy is a road to ruin
While the rest of the country, and the world, sets a course for a cleaner energy future, Governor Sununu and his party are, as one energy contractor put it, steering New Hampshire “back to the dark ages.”
The rejection of science on the House Science, Technology and Energy Committee is unforgiveable. But relegating New Hampshire to a high-cost, fossil-fuel-laden energy future, that negates 20 years of state efforts, deserves your attention.
Stagnant energy leadership began when Governor Sununu dismantled the Office of Energy Planning in 2018. But, coincident with greater libertarian/Free Stater control of state government, reliable energy policies have come under full-blown attack.
Most of us thought lawmakers could agree on the benefits of energy efficiency, and the value of assisting low-income residents with energy bills; these are investments to make us more resilient and less vulnerable to volatile fuel prices.
We assumed bipartisan support was a no-brainer for cleaner forms of locally generated energy that lower fuel costs, keep energy dollars in the state and shave costly demand.
But, with a single pen stroke, we watched the governor abandon the state’s biomass industry and permanently damage our forest industry, cementing a lurch toward greater out-of-state, fossil-fuel dependence. House hearings brought us testimony of lost jobs and economic ripples that would hit every county and timberland owner in the state. We heard how biomass plants kept NH forests healthy, aided tourism, and produced 6 percent of the state’s sustainable electricity. But political loyalty was the governor’s weapon of choice when he coerced environmentally minded Republicans to change their vote and let his biomass veto stand.
In 2020, his fossil-fuel allies on House Science, Technology and Energy chose to challenge the need for a new three-year energy-efficiency plan, in a letter to the Public Utilities Commission. Energy efficiency is the most effective and stimulative policy in our energy portfolio. When fuel prices go up, as is predicted this winter, the value of energy-efficiency multiplies. Weatherized buildings reduce fuel demand permanently. Conversely, the loss of those gains also compounds.
New Hampshire residents and businesses should cry foul for the recent PUC rejection of a stakeholder-approved three-year NHSaves energy-efficiency plan. The order, signed on Nov. 12, 2021, by a commission chair who resigned the same day, was 11 months overdue. No justification was given for pulling the rug out from under New Hampshire’s home-grown weatherization businesses, their workers and the utilities, who have long maintained successful, good-faith collaborations in carrying out the NHSaves program. The regulatory conclusion here rejected the evidence and caved to calls for sabotage. What is the cost of this loss of predictability?
We question the lack of meaningful objectives set forth by the self-proclaimed “manager” whose recent reorganization of executive and regulatory energy agencies places political loyalists in key jobs at the new Department of Energy, the Department of Environmental Services and the PUV. The greatly pared down PUC is now chaired by someone who possesses no background in regional energy, utility ratesetting or clean energy markets. Sidestepping regulatory objectivity and expertise in favor of dogma bring New Hampshire closer to cronyism.
As New Hampshire resists steps to reduce fossil fuel dependence, and fails to plan for the inevitable, our share of regional grid costs goes up. New Hampshire’s longstanding approach has been to adopt proven energy strategies and modest, incremental improvements as a hedge against volatile fuel prices. Governor Sununu’s approach curbs proven strategies, like portfolio diversity, and inhibits new energy markets from taking root. Is this both pattern and plan?
Embracing the past, as innovation sprints on around us, is a road to ruin.
Rep. Peter Somssich, D-Portsmouth, is ranking Democratic member on the House Science, Technology & Energy Committee. Rep. Kat McGhee, D-Hollis, is deputy ranking Democratic member on the committee.