Gov. Chris Sununu vetoed two Senate energy bills this week, asserting that they would result in higher costs for electricity ratepayers in New Hampshire.
“These bills send our state in exactly the wrong direction,” Sununu, a Republican, said in a news release from his office Tuesday. “We need to be taking steps to lower electric rates, not passing legislation that would cause massive increases.”
Senate Bill 446 would have expanded the state’s net metering program, which allows people and businesses that own solar panels to sell their surplus electricity back into the grid to offset their electric bills.
The legislation would have increased the net-metering cap for energy production levels from 1 megawatt to 5 megawatts, raising the number of customer-generators who could receive credit generating their own electricity.
Today, a homeowner or business with a solar array that generates more than 1 megawatt is not eligible to sell their surplus at the above-market rate set by the state's net-metering rule. The bill also included provisions for some participation from facilities generating more than 5 megawatts but less than 25 megawatts.
Sununu said in the release that the bill constituted a handout to large-scale energy developers and would have resulted in higher electric rates for businesses and residents not participating in the state’s net metering program.
“These immense projects should use incentives already available and compete on their own merits,” Sununu said of the larger facilities that would qualify under the legislation.
Meanwhile, Senate Bill 365 would have required three electricity providers in the state — Eversource, Unitil and Liberty Utilities — to purchase power from biomass plants in their service areas. While the bill does not state how much power the providers would have to purchase, they would be required to do so at 80 percent of their default service rates, which vary by company.
According to the U.S. Information Administration, the Seabrook nuclear power plant provided 56 percent of the state’s net electricity generation in 2016. Another 25 percent came from natural gas, which has become a cheaper alternative for commercial providers in recent years.
Supporters say the bill provided a way to mitigate the state’s reliance on natural gas for electricity generation, and would have fostered a stronger renewable energy industry in New Hampshire.
Critics argue that the legislation amounted to the government playing favorites in the state’s energy market by subsidizing biomass plants. Moreover, they say the bill would have forced ratepayers to bear the brunt of the rising costs for commercial providers, based on an analysis by the state Legislative Budget Assistant.
Sen. Jay V. Kahn, D-Keene, was a co-sponsor for both bills. He said he was surprised and disappointed by the governor’s vetoes.
“What kind of energy future does the governor support?” Kahn asked. “If it’s only going to be large transmission facilities from out of state, that’s not going to create many jobs or diversify our economy in New Hampshire.”
In co-sponsoring SB 365, Kahn was joined by several legislators whose districts include communities in the Monadnock Region — Sen. Kevin A. Avard, R-Nashua; Sen. Andy Sanborn, R-Bedford; Sen. Ruth Ward, R-Stoddard; and Rep. Marjorie J. Shepardson, D-Marlborough.
Avard and Sanborn were also co-sponsors for SB 446.
Both bills were introduced in December 2017; they passed the N.H. House and Senate in May.
Kahn said the two pieces of legislation would have provided a market for locally produced, renewable energy, whether from solar arrays or biomass facilities.
“These are setbacks, and it’s hard to envision how this is consistent with the governor’s energy plan,” Kahn said, referencing the 10-year energy strategy the governor’s office released in April.” Our region of the state is asking government to recognize the importance of developing these locally generated, renewable energy supplies.”
Overriding a veto requires a two-thirds majority in both the House and Senate.
This article has been changed to correct the eligibility of homeowners and businesses with solar arrays to sell their surplus.