Governor signs bill increasing net metering cap for municipal energy projects

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Published: 9/6/2021 3:49:22 PM

A bill signed into law by Gov. Chris Sununu on Aug. 26 opens the door for towns or school districts to partner on larger energy projects.

House Bill 315 revises the process for groups, including municipalities, to buy into energy services. The bill updated a 2019 law, which allows towns and counties to purchase power on behalf of residents in their area through opt-out programs.

While critics of the bill said the new regulations would make navigating the system difficult, proponents testified it would provide more options and potential cost savings for consumers.

The bill could be used by local municipalities currently seeking to explore energy options, such as Keene and Harrisville, who have embarked on community power buying opportunities, or Dublin, which recently discussed starting the same process.

It also allows for municipalities to get the most out of renewable energy infrastructure. The bill was signed two weeks ago at the Derry Transfer Station. Derry is currently seeking bids to construct a 2.2 megawatt solar farm at the town’s former landfill – a large enough array to provide energy for all of the town’s municipal facilities.

The bill, which includes an expansion of the net metering cap for municipal energy projects, allows the town to make the most of the anticipated project.

Patricia Martin, chair of the Rindge Energy Commission and activist, said she was “thrilled” about the passage of the bill and the doors it might open for community power. She said the Rindge Energy Commission has hosted several talks about the concept of community power in the past few years, and has been watching working models throughout the state as they’ve taken off.

“I am very excited to see community power and that Cheshire County is getting on board,” Martin said. “I’m so pleased and hope this is just the beginning of a snowball effect of us getting more into clean energy state-wide. We’re way behind in the state, especially on energy efficiency.”

House Rep. Michael Vose (R-Epping), one of the sponsors of the bill and the chairman of the House Science, Technology and Energy committee, said while the original law was good in concept, it hadn’t been working as intended.

“Well, it took a lot of time, a lot of effort and a lot of meetings to make it work, but it succeeded,” Vose said. “We made it work, we got there.”

Though not part of the original bill, a Senate amendment to the bill which ultimately was signed is an expansion of the renewable net metering cap for cities and towns.

Net metering is when renewable energy generators – such as a town-owned solar field – sell back the excess electricity they produce to their utility. Before last week, electricity generated by systems larger than 1 Megawatt receives wholesale payments for their energy, which didn’t incentivize larger-scale projects.

House Bill 315 increases the net metering cap from 1 Megawatt to 5 Megawatts.

Vose said that was a change he supported.

“We understood that this was the right thing to do. We think this is the right way to go, and it shows that energy policy can be crafted in a careful and deliberate way that does not hurt ratepayers and does not put our grid at risk, as long as we do it carefully and do it right, and HB 315 is a classic example of doing it right,” Vose said.

Martin also praised the amendment, noting that there are existing projects, such as city-owned hydropower in Nashua, which are already going to be able to reap the benefits, and it could encourage larger-scale projects in other communities.

“Rindge wants to do, at some point, a community solar project, that’s something we’ve been talking about for a long time, and we keep looking for the right opportunity and the right location,” Martin said.

Sununu called the passage of HB315, along with Senate Bill 91, an omnibus bill addressing several aspects of renewable energy, a “huge win” for the state.

Sununu said the bill addressed issues that could bring larger renewable energy projects to a “screeching halt” in other states, and said their passage would result in a “big win for New Hampshire for literally decades to come.”

“We’re an environmentally driven state, we need clean energy, we need renewable projects, and we do them a little bit different here and a heck of a lot better,” Sununu said.

“These bills show that you can move forward with energy innovation without taking undue risks or driving up the cost of electricity,” Vose said. “HB315 will allow counties, towns, and groups to gather together to purchase electricity from a variety of sources, not just their local utility. It further provides a way for these community aggregations to manage power in a way that might not be suitable or cost effective for the wider grid.”

 

Ashley Saari can be reached at 924-7172 ext. 244 or asaari@ledgertranscript.com. She’s on Twitter @AshleySaariMLT.


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