Granite State Debate – Let’s Lower Electric Rates, Not Raise them
A top concern for the New Hampshire business community heading into the 2017 legislative session was the state’s volatile and high energy costs. This issue impacts nearly all residents of New Hampshire who own a home or in some way pay energy bills. For many large New Hampshire employers, it is a key factor in whether to grow their business in the state or look to lower cost regions of the country for expansion.
While the warning flags have been waved on this issue for the past several years, consensus has not been reached on how best to address the issue. While it is true that New Hampshire is part of a regional energy system and many factors contribute to our high energy costs, we can have an impact on prices through state regulations and policies.
Given our current situation, businesses and residents should expect the Legislature to, first, avoid any new policies that will increase costs and, second, pursue every possible policy lever the New Hampshire can pull on its own to lower energy costs. As we near the end of the 2017 Legislative session, both of these potential paths lie before the Legislature through Senate Bills 128 and 129.
Senate Bill 128 represents one of the most significant opportunities policymakers have had to address our state’s high energy costs in years. This proposal would grant the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) the flexibility to review and approve energy proposals that reduce the cost of electricity for consumers. Currently, the PUC must narrowly limit its review to only whether energy proposals adhere to our state’s nearly two-decade old law that deregulated the electric market.
Simply put, SB 128 brings some much-needed common sense to our state’s energy policy – if a project or contract will lower costs for ratepayers, regulators should be able to recognize that benefit.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, Senate Bill 129 represents the type of policy that will move us further away from addressing our state’s high energy costs. SB 129 would add $30 to $75 million in new energy costs for ratepayers by tinkering with the state’s Renewable Portfolio Standards for biomass energy. Proposals like SB 129 are framed around outcomes that may be well intended – such as preserving the stability of a particular type of energy production like biomass – but subsidies to achieve such outcomes ultimately increase costs for ratepayers. Manufacturing companies, and other large business, that consume the most energy bear the biggest brunt of these new costs. This in turn negatively impacts the ability of these businesses to expand in New Hampshire and create new jobs. Further increasing costs also hurts efforts by the state, and business groups like Greater Manchester Chamber, to attract new businesses to New Hampshire.
As the Legislature wraps up its work for 2017, its critical it do all it can to alleviate the higher energy costs facing our businesses and residents. Proposals like SB 128 that provide the state with the flexibility to act on opportunities to lower costs need to move forward immediately, while policies like SB 129 that add tens of millions of new energy costs should be left behind.