By Nancy West,
CONCORD — The piece of legislation that hundreds of Northern Pass protesters shouted down at the State House a little over two weeks ago – Senate Bill 128 – was retained Tuesday by a 20-1 House committee vote.
That means the House Science, Technology and Energy Committee can work on the bill for the rest of the year and vote on it in the beginning of next year.
The committee action also means the Public Utilities Commission wouldn’t be able to consider a 20-year power purchase agreement (PPA) between Eversource and Hydro-Quebec to buy 100 megawatts of power dedicated to New Hampshire customers until early next year.
Northern Pass spokesperson Martin Murray said in an email that included the blog posted on the project’s website: “As a reminder, a PPA is not a requirement of the project’s state siting process.”
The $1.6 billion, 192-mile project from Pittsburg to Deerfield to bring electricity from Hydro-Quebec in Canada to the New England grid is in the midst of a long, complex hearing process before the Site Evaluation Committee. The SEC will decide whether New Hampshire approves or denies Northern Pass’ application.
SB 128 would provide the PUC with the authority to consider energy cost savings proposals such as the Power Purchase Agreement between Eversource and Hydro-Quebec, according to the project blog.
The bill is “aimed at clarifying the authority of the NH Public Utilities Commission under New Hampshire’s electric restructuring law to consider opportunities by electric utilities to lower consumers’ energy costs.
“Clarifying the authority of the New Hampshire PUC to assess the benefits of such measures would ensure consideration of a power purchase agreement (PPA) between Public Service of New Hampshire (PSNH) and Hydro-Québec (HQ). The proposed PPA would provide 100 MW of favorably priced Northern Pass power to PSNH customers for 20 years,” the blog said.
Bill Quinlan, president of NH Operations at Eversource was quoted in the blog: “We understand the importance of considering this proposed legislation carefully. We are committed to continuing to work intently with the NH Legislature, the PUC, and other parties to identify solutions for delivering much-needed energy rate relief for our customers.”
New Hampshire’s Consumer Advocate D. Maurice Kreis said the bill was motivated by calls from political candidates last year for Northern Pass to provide real and concrete benefits to New Hampshire customers.
“PSNH d/b/a Eversource NH entered into a power purchase agreement (PPA) with Hydro-Quebec that would give PSNH the rights to 100 megawatts of on-peak electricity that would move from Canada to the Deerfield, N.H. via Northern Pass.
“The problem is that PSNH will have no direct use for 100 megawatts of on-peak power since it is the process of becoming a distribution-only utility – just a poles and wires operation,” Kreis said in an email.
PSNH planned to resell the power to companies that do provide energy to retail customers, he said. “PSNH planned to collect any costs of buying the HQ power via the PSNH stranded cost charge and also to credit to that charge the revenue from reselling the power,” Kreis said.
The PUC concluded that a deal like this is not permitted under the Restructuring Act, Kreis said, and the chief purpose of SB 128, as amended by the Senate, was to overrule the PUC and permit the agency to consider the agreement.
PSNH and Hydro-Quebec have insisted on keeping the key terms of their PPA secret, Kreis said. “In my judgment this is unfortunate; in these circumstances, the PPA is little more than a publicity stunt,” Kreis said.
On April 23, an estimated 400 protesters circled the State House to voice their opposition to Northern Pass. Speakers suggested the protestors contact their legislators to keep SB 128 from passing.
Rep. Robert Backus, D-Manchester, the ranking Democrat on the House Science, Technology and Energy Committee, said retaining the bill was the best opponents could do to keep it from coming to a floor vote this session.
Two things cut into the bill’s support, Backus said: PUC’s position that passing it now could interfere with the auction that is underway to sell Eversource’s generating plants in Bow, Newington and Portsmouth along with its hydrodams.
Some committee members were also upset that any reference to gas pipelines had been removed from the bill, Backus said.
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