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May 21, 2024 3:23 pm

Local News

Sununu Vetoes Net Metering Expansion Bill Over Drafting Error, Cost-Shift Concerns

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by Hadley Barndollar, New Hampshire Bulletin

Gov. Chris Sununu vetoed a bill this week that would have dramatically expanded net metering in New Hampshire, pointing to a drafting error that he said went too far.

As originally introduced, Senate Bill 79 would have allowed industrial-scale businesses to install renewable net metering generators of up to five megawatts annually. But an unintentional legislative drafting error out of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee entirely eliminated the current one-megawatt cap in place for all customer generators, residents included. 

In his veto message Thursday, Sununu said SB 79 had “several problematic provisions,” namely an amendment to the statutory definition of “customer generator” and removal of the one-megawatt net metering limit that applies to businesses and residents under current law.

“Although this may have been unintended by legislators, this change would completely upend the state’s net metering structure and makes this bill unacceptable,” Sununu wrote in his veto message.

The bill’s prime sponsor, Sanbornton Republican Sen. Tim Lang, says he supports the governor’s veto after the “legislative unforced error” changed the intent of his effort. 

“The point of the bill was to allow New Hampshire commercial and industrial businesses of all sizes to reduce operational expenses, help offset the high cost of electricity here in New Hampshire, and to keep the current New Hampshire economic boom ongoing,” Lang said in an email. He plans to submit the bill again. 

Sam Evans-Brown, executive director of Clean Energy New Hampshire, said his organization was expecting Sununu’s veto due to the drafting error.

“The thing that is unfortunate is that none of us noticed it,” he said. “I didn’t notice it, the solar advocates didn’t notice it. It was a fairly subtle change that you’d have to be very familiar with the statute to have noticed. It’s unfortunate.”

While the amendment in SB 79 was unintentional, clean energy advocates – and a bipartisan group of lawmakers – have been advocating to expand the consumer net metering cap to five megawatts anyway. During his time as governor, Sununu has vetoed bills to do so three times, in 2018, 2019, and 2020. In all three occasions, the Senate overrode the vetoes, but the vetoes were sustained in the House. 

Cost-shifting argument

In his Thursday veto message, Sununu also doubled down on concerns he’s previously expressed about cost-shifting, specifically that SB 79 could benefit large businesses at the expense of ratepayers who can’t afford higher energy costs. He noted an active adjudicative proceeding in front of the Public Utilities Commission that is considering changes to the current net metering tariff structure, which he said will better inform understanding of the extent that net metering shifts costs among ratepayers. 

“At that point, we may be able to feel much more confident that an expansion of net metering will not negatively impact our most vulnerable citizens,” Sununu said.

A study commissioned by the state Department of Energy last year already gave an indication, estimating that under current projections through 2035, distributed energy – mostly from rooftop solar panels – will raise the average bill of other customers in New Hampshire by about 1 percent, but will bring system-wide financial benefits. 

At the time, Consumer Advocate Don Kreis said the study undermined the common argument used by Sununu and other critics of “unreasonable cost-shifting.”

Evans-Brown said it was unfortunate to see the governor “doubling down with this rhetoric on cost-shifting” in his veto message, and he hopes Sununu will reconsider his stance when the bill comes back around again. 

This story was written by Hadley Barndollar, a reporter at the New Hampshire Bulletin, where this story first appeared.

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