December 1, 2022

N.H. faces lawsuit over defunding of energy efficiency plan

A clean energy group is taking New Hampshire to court over a decision by state regulators to cut funding for the state’s energy efficiency program.

Clean Energy New Hampshire said it has filed a lawsuit in state Superior Court against the Public Utilities Commission on behalf of contractors who will lose business as a result of the panel’s decision to defund the energy efficiency program.

Two weeks ago, the commission voted to reject a three-year energy efficiency plan and slashed funding for energy efficiency programs over the next two years, in a move aimed at providing relief to energy consumers who help fund the program.

But the NH Clean Energy said the order “rolls back years of progress” on energy efficiency, “ignoring the state’s energy savings goals and capping and reducing budgets.” The group said the commission’s delayed approval of the new rules has made matters even worse.

“By shirking their duty to make a decision for nearly a year, the Public Utilities Commission has practically guaranteed that the results of the order will be as ruinous as possible,” Sam Evans-Brown, the group’s executive director, said in a statement. “If regulators had done their job, we would be able to go through the standard appeal process for a decision like this one, but instead we are forced to ask for emergency relief from the courts.”

The lawsuit claims that the PUC order will prevent businesses from making sizable investments in their energy efficiency that stimulate the economy and cut costs.

Meanwhile, one of the state’s largest utilities has asked the PUC to reconsider its decision to reject the energy efficiency plan.

In a filing to regulators, Liberty said it expects costs for gas customers to increase by $4.4 million in 2022 as a result of the decision. Costs for electric customers will increase by $8.3 million because of the new order, the company said.

“Liberty remains very concerned that without swift and immediate action by the commission to stay its order, significant and irreparable damage will be done to Liberty’s ability to deliver these important programs in a predictable and rational manner to the customers they serve,” the company wrote in the request.

The NHSaves program provides rebates and other incentives to homeowners and businesses to install energy-efficient heating and cooling systems in hopes of reducing the use of natural gas, heating oil and other fossil fuels. The program is funded by a surcharge on utility bills.

The proposal rejected by state utility regulators would have led to higher residential and commercial utility bills used to fund efficiency surcharges applied to electric bills.

Currently, the average household pays about $40 a year through a so-called System Benefits Charge tacked onto utility bills. The plan had called for increasing that to $70 a year.

How much individual consumers are charged varies by utility and whether they are residential, commercial or industrial customers.

The fees drum up tens of millions of dollars a year, which helps pay for home efficiency audits and other programs to reduce consumption and lower utility bills.

But Clean Energy New Hampshire said the PUC’s order “ignores” the cost-effectiveness of the state’s energy efficiency programs at a time when energy bills are steadily rising.

“This order strips away opportunities for the Granite State’s most vulnerable populations to take advantage of energy efficiency programs at little to no cost,” the group said. “Energy efficiency programs protect lives, keep homes warm, and reduce energy bills.”

This article was originally posted on N.H. faces lawsuit over defunding of energy efficiency plan

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