In summarizing a bill in Concord to amend New Hampshire’s community power law, it’s hard not to recall the character Emily Litella, played in early “Saturday Night Live” sketches by the late comedian Gilda Radner, who would hold forth on a topic, but inevitably end each sketch by turning to the camera and saying, “never mind.”
Because, despite what its proponents claim, the bill under consideration — House Bill 315 — would effectively say the same to the state’s counties and municipalities about the energy aggregation statute adopted less than two years ago to empower them to lower residents’ electricity costs and chart their own energy future, including reducing reliance on fossil-fuel energy, by adopting a community power program.
If enacted, HB 315 would be a particularly bitter pill for Keene, which has made implementing a community power plan a critical part of the sweeping sustainable energy plan the City Council adopted in January to transition Keene to renewable energy for electricity by 2030 and for heating and transportation by 2050. Even as it was putting the finishing touches on that broader plan, the city had proceeded well down the road toward adopting a community power program authorized by the Community Power Law passed by the Legislature and signed by Gov. Chris Sununu in 2019. The program being developed by the city would allow it to buy electricity on behalf of the city’s energy consumers, giving it — and them — more bargaining power in negotiating electricity supply prices and seeking out renewable energy sources.
Now, the backers of HB 315 claim the 2019 law needs fixing in order to achieve its goals. Yet what they instead propose would throw up significant obstacles to implementing any effective community power program. For Keene, the changes HB 315 proposes would limit data collection from utilities that would enable the city to be in touch with consumers and, under the guise of preventing tax dollars from being spent to operate its program, would hobble city staff in implementing it. The bill would also load up community power programs with costly and burdensome new regulation and state oversight. As City Councilor Michael Giacomo stated during the council’s discussion of HB 315 at its Feb. 18 meeting, the bill would “effectively kneecap” the city’s efforts and make it “virtually unfeasible to put forward an aggregation plan.”
What’s driving this effort to retool community power programs before they even get launched under the 2019 statute? One of the cosponsors, Rep. Michael Vose of Epping, claims he’s all for the concept of community power programs but doesn’t want their cost to be passed along to consumers elsewhere. That may sound laudable, but it’s really a way of saying the bill aims to protect energy suppliers from competition, either on price or from renewable energy providers. Not surprisingly, the state’s biggest utility, Eversource, is backing the bill.
The bill has had a public hearing before the House Science, Technology and Energy Committee, and opposition has been strong, including from Keene, whose Climate and Energy Committee, City Council, mayor and city manager are urging its rejection, and from Lebanon, another municipality actively considering a community power program that the bill would torpedo. Strong opposition has also been registered by Donald Kreis, the state’s consumer advocate, who says Eversource and the other legacy suppliers are trying to protect their bottom lines at the expense of consumers.
HB 315 is due out of committee on March 11, and Vose, who chairs the committee, told The Sentinel he expects the bill to undergo significant amendment before it moves forward. Instead, the committee should take it further and vote the bill inexpedient to legislate, and the House should agree. HB 315 is anti-competitive and anti-local control and would be an abandonment of New Hampshire’s long-standing effort to assure consumers of the benefits of energy deregulation. In short, tell the bill’s backers, not community power programs, “never mind.”