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NH House spars over climate and energy bills

Published Monday Mar 13, 2023

Author Hadley Barndollar, NH Bulletin

NH House spars over climate and energy bills

On full display at the State House last week was the persisting staunch divide between Republicans and Democrats on matters of climate change and energy – in a state that remains the only one in New England without legally binding climate goals. 

Republicans killed an effort to evaluate the future of electric vehicles in New Hampshire and voted to eliminate the requirement for utility companies to submit plans demonstrating their investments are keeping costs as low as possible. They also shot down legislation on net metering and carbon pricing

In a series of statements released after the votes, Republicans said they want the free market to decide which cars consumers buy, and to protect ratepayers’ wallets from additional taxes. 

Democrats termed the day as a major blow to the push for more serious climate action at the government level and utility accountability amid a state energy crisis. 

Republicans currently hold a slim majority in the House, but Thursday’s session saw an even greater advantage with several Democrats absent. 

Here’s a look at two of the bills in question, which both came to the House floor from the Science, Technology, and Energy Committee without any prior recommendation due to split votes.

Future of electric vehicles in NH

As introduced, House Bill 92 would have required the adoption of California’s vehicle emissions standards and ended the sale of new gas-powered cars in the state starting in 2035. Bill proponents were ready to compromise by instead forming a study commission, but the entire effort was killed outright. 

California has the unique authority through U.S. statute to set emissions standards, so the federal Clean Air Act allows other states to adopt the California Low Emission/Zero Emission Vehicle Program. New Hampshire is the only East Coast state north of New Jersey that has not yet adopted the standards, the bill stated. 

HB 92 would have also allowed electric vehicle owners to utilize an extended warranty for emissions-related parts and increased the state’s available EV stock. 

Democratic Rep. Rebecca McWilliams, the bill’s prime sponsor, introduced a floor amendment on Thursday that would have instead established a commission to “address the challenge of market readiness and infrastructure in New Hampshire for the incoming wave of low emissions vehicles,” rather than moving immediately to adopt California’s program. 

A large majority of Democrats voted in favor of McWilliams’ amendment, but it failed with overwhelming Republican opposition. The original bill was then killed by a vote of 40-331.

In a statement Thursday, Republican Rep. Doug Thomas called HB 92 “extremist legislation” and took issue with plans being modeled after California. 

“Among the many dictates imposed by this bill, the most egregious is the outright ban on the sale of internal combustion engines by 2035,” he said. “… We should let the free market dictate which cars consumers purchase.” 

Utility companies’ least-cost integrated resource plans

House Republicans advanced a bill that would eliminate the statutory requirement that utility companies submit least-cost integrated resource plans every two years to the Public Utilities Commission. Consumer Advocate Donald Kreis recently called these plans “the only way to control runaway utility investment.”

Democrats voted unanimously against Republican-sponsored House Bill 281, while all but one Republican voted in favor. 

In support of repealing the requirement, Republican Rep. JD Bernardy wrote to fellow legislators that because of divestment, utilities are no longer potentially making money on the type or placement of electricity production facilities, so the requirement is no longer relevant. 

“The principal reason for the statute no longer exists, thus these plans are no longer being submitted and reviewed,” Bernardy wrote. “Other electric cost minimization plans regarding distribution services and energy efficiency can and should be part of the Department of Energy’s State Energy Plan.”

While testimony on the bill revealed least-cost integrated resource plans are likely outdated as is, wrote Democratic Rep. Wendy Thomas, “we should not … simply repeal the requirement outright without putting any kind of guardrails in its place.”

“Current statute has the PUC look at all cost-saving measures, including energy efficiency and diversity of energy resources, in each (least-cost integrated resource plan),” she wrote. “… Both Eversource and the Consumer Advocate testified that although the process may need to be updated, it was far better to reform and modernize it instead of outright eliminating it.”

HB 281 will get a Senate vote at a later date. 

This story is courtesy of NH Bulletin under creative commons license. No changes have been made to the article.

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