A bipartisan bill that would restart state energy-efficiency programs could reach the governor’s desk as early as February, after it passed out of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources committee in a unanimous vote on Tuesday.
The version of the bill the committee passed includes an amendment authored by the bill’s prime sponsor, Rep. Michael Vose, an Epping Republican, and Sen. David Watters, a Dover Democrat, which would put energy-efficiency programs in statute. Vose said this would prevent the Public Utilities Commission from rejecting future plans that follow the funding formula in House Bill 549. The bill funds energy efficiency at 2020 levels and includes modest annual increases.
“Because that language is in statute, it should be immune from tampering from the Public Utilities Commission,” Vose said during the hearing on Tuesday. The commission stalled for nearly a year before rejecting the energy-efficiency plan, bringing programs to a halt in November. Contractors said the decision left their businesses in limbo and harmed their customers, particularly those who can’t afford to pay for weatherization on their own.
Jason Palmer of P&M Insulation, who works in the low-income sector, supported the bill. “I’ve gone to homes where little old ladies were heating their homes with an oven. I’ve gone to another home where the front door is missing and there’s a blanket stapled to the doorframe,” said Palmer.
Those are problems his company can fix — when the program is operating. Low-income programs, like all programs operated by NHSaves, were halted after the commission rejected the triennial plan.
The Nature Conservancy, Clean Energy New Hampshire, the state Department of Energy and several energy contractors spoke in favor of the bill that they say is urgently needed to create stability and predictability for state energy efficiency programs run through NHSaves.
“It’s been very scary for us because all the programs got stopped. Our work got stopped and we’re hanging on by a thread, as are the other contractors,” Bill Newell told lawmakers in a hearing on Tuesday. Newell testified in support of the latest version of the bill. No one testified in opposition.
Gov. Chris Sununu also voiced his support for the latest version of the bill in a letter to the Senate committee on Tuesday. He said the bill was a cost-effective way to provide accountability and stability to energy efficiency programs and set them up for long-term success. “I ask you to vote to support House Bill 549 as amended and expeditiously move it forward to my desk for signature,” he said.
The Senate committee voted to put the bill onto the consent calendar for a vote on the Senate floor when the full body next meets.