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Business Perspective: Approving new energy efficiency plan step one to lower costs in NH

Business Perspective: Approving new energy efficiency plan step one to lower costs in NH

New Hampshire’s high energy costs are a threat to Granite State businesses and the economy overall and state leaders must use every means available to them to correct this issue.

The next opportunity to make progress is when the state Public Utilities Commission considers approval of the 2024-2026 triennial energy efficiency plan this fall.

Working to find solutions to high energy costs is a top public policy priority for the Business & Industry Association. Many of our members during our policy roundtable talks the past two summers ranked energy costs among their top concerns and impediments to business and economic growth. BIA, New Hampshire’s statewide chamber of commerce and state affiliate of the National Association of Manufacturers, considers energy costs, along with workforce availability and housing access and affordability, as the biggest challenges to New Hampshire’s continued economic success.

Many of our members are large energy consumers in manufacturing, health care, financial services and educational institutions that have large campuses with large energy bills. But even our smallest members are challenged by our energy costs, particularly electricity costs nearly 70% higher than the national average and fourth highest among the states.

CNBC ranked North Carolina number 1 on its America’s Top States For Business list in 2023 and 2022. The state’s low energy costs are part of the attraction. The Economic Development Partnership of North Carolina, which recruits new businesses to the state, touts electricity costs 22.6% below the national average.

New Hampshire’s risk of losing business due to its energy costs is real and worsened by prices soaring to record highs. That must end for New Hampshire to continue to expand its economy and deliver greater prosperity for its residents. This requires an “all of the above,” market-driven approach that utilizes every tool and strategy, big or small, to sustainably fix this problem.

BIA is advocating for the PUC to approve the 2024-2026 triennial energy efficiency plan as filed by the state’s electric and gas utilities with minimal changes to ensure stability for the state’s efficiency programs and businesses that rely on these programs. BIA public policy priorities include supporting implementation of cost-effective energy policies, such as energy efficiency and renewable energy programs.

It is imperative that energy efficiency programs provide businesses with a predictable calculation for the system benefits charge (SBC) rate as proposed by HB 549, and the cost-effectiveness test includes the reasonable adjustments established by SB 113. The two bills were signed into law in 2022 and 2023, respectively.

New Hampshire businesses can reasonably plan for long-term projects that result in more significant energy savings by utilizing offerings they know will remain available. Businesses rely on certainty and consistency to drive successful operations and expansion.

The 2024-2026 triennial energy efficiency plan was structured based on HB 549 and SB 113, which were crafted with careful consideration and input from a wide variety of stakeholders during the legislative process. Lawmakers provided a solution after ratepayers, residential and commercial, expressed concerns about the devasting effects of losing energy efficiency programs and funding. BIA is advocating for the PUC to consider maintaining the modest approach to future SBC increases as established by HB 549, and the cost effectiveness assessment adjusted by SB 113.

Increasing costs substantially and rapidly for commercial and industrial ratepayers would have negative consequences for the state economy. The PUC must keep in mind New Hampshire’s energy costs, which are already an impediment to business development, as it reviews the triennial energy efficiency plan for approval.

Extending the SBC rates program structure as established is the best way to sustain energy efficiency while protecting New Hampshire businesses from immediate and significant SBC rate increases. BIA is asking the PUC to uphold the legislative intent of HB 549 and SB 113 and to not overstep its adjudicative authority by initiating public policy making.

Approving the triennial energy efficiency plan as proposed by the joint utilities will ensure stability for energy efficiency funding and programs for New Hampshire’s businesses. Stabilizing our high costs of energy is step one that must then lead to efforts to lower those costs much closer to the national average so Granite State businesses can remain competitive and grow.

Kirsten Koch is vice president of public policy for the Business & Industry Association.

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