Colonial Insulation and Fireproofing in Rindge could see a significant portion of its business revenue evaporate if a state Public Utilities Commission ruling stands.
President and Chief Executive Officer Chris Sullivan said that while his company is diverse enough to survive, the panel’s decision to greatly reduce funding for energy-efficiency efforts statewide could be a death blow to some weatherization contractors.
Colonial Insulation is one of a group of companies, utilities, environmentalists, clean-energy supporters, consumer advocates and housing authorities who joined together in a lawsuit against the PUC on Dec. 7 in Merrimack County Superior Court.
The plaintiffs want the commission in charge of regulating utilities to revisit its decision last month to reject a proposed three-year, nearly $400 million ratepayer-funded plan providing incentives for upgrading homes, equipment and offices to save power.
The N.H. Department of Energy has also asked the panel to clarify or reconsider its decision, and on Tuesday, Gov. Chris Sununu released a letter in support of that request.
Sullivan’s company improves the insulation in walls, attics and basements, making some structures as much as 50 percent more energy efficient.
“It also improves the longevity of the home and makes people more comfortable,” he said in an interview.
“Also, people are concerned about the carbon footprint. You take a 200-year-old home that uses 2,000 gallons of heating oil a year. You can cut that in half and that makes a significant impact.”
Sullivan states in an affidavit in support of the lawsuit that the abrupt end to the state program means the company may not be paid for some of the work it has done and this could result in litigation.
The previous energy-efficiency program ran from 2018-2020, but funding was continued on an interim basis this year. Until a new program is approved as a successor, statewide energy-efficiency efforts are essentially on hold.
Sullivan said his company did $856,000 in projects this year for customers of NHSaves, a collaboration of utilities that administer the statewide energy-efficiency program.
“Ending this program would eliminate 35 percent of our revenue and would cause irreparable harm to the business,” he said in the affidavit.
On its website, NHSaves says new projects are now paused. “Additionally, all point-of-sale and retail rebates and incentives on lighting, appliances, equipment and HVAC systems are closed as of November 23, 2021.”
The lawsuit says the PUC order threatens hundreds to thousands of layoffs and multiple business closures.
The commission, in its November ruling, said market-based approaches are better for fostering energy efficiency than programs that would burden ratepayers.
“We view this Triennial Plan as an inflection point, with ratepayer-funded and utility managed energy efficiency programs peaking in 2020 and 2021 and returning to the intended transition to market-based energy efficiency after this triennium within the guidelines provided by the Legislature,” the ruling states.
Sununu wrote in his letter to the Department of Energy that he shares the commission’s concerns about the ratepayer costs of these programs, but that there are legitimate questions about how the PUC order would affect the viability of the state’s energy-efficiency programs.
The last three-year energy-efficiency program was $176 million in size. The PUC allowed that level of funding to continue this year while it delayed acting on the new, nearly $400 million, 2021-2023 proposal, which was submitted in September 2020.
Now that the PUC has rejected that proposal, the status of future funding of the program is unclear and subject to further hearings and litigation.
Consumer Advocate Donald Kreis said a customer with a typical monthly electrical power usage of 600 kilowatt hours currently pays $3.17 for the energy-efficiency program and would see this increase to $5.02 in the first year of the new plan, $5.52 in the second and $6.21 in the third.