By GARRY RAYNO, InDepthNH.org
CONCORD — With New Hampshire residents facing skyrocketing energy costs this winter, Democrats said Thursday the governor’s energy plan has left the state unable to blunt the impact on families and businesses.
The two representatives and one state senator agreed Gov. Chris Sununu’s energy plan favors the fossil fuel industry over alternative and local clean energy initiatives and fuel efficiency programs.
“Six billion dollars a year has gone out-of-state and out-of-the-country to purchase fossil fuels,” said Rep. Lee Oxenham, D-Plainfield, and a member of the House Science, Technology Energy Committee. “Who benefits? The governor’s out-of-state campaign backers, not the people or businesses of New Hampshire.”
Recently state and federal regulators have predicted the cost of electricity will increase from 20 to 60 percent, natural gas to increase at least 30 percent and may quadruple in New England, heating oil to increase 40 percent and propane 57 percent.
“Winter is coming, and energy costs are set to rise dramatically for New Hampshire families,” said Sen. David Watters, D-Dover. “The state is at the mercy of fossil fuel energy markets, but it didn’t have to be this way.”
The Sununu administration has stalled a weatherization program to help low-income families make homes more energy efficient and help save money on their heating bills, Watters said.
The state’s three-year energy efficiency program, which has the backing of the state’s electric utilities, has been stalled at the Public Utilities Commission since early this year.
House Republican leadership objected to the plan and the commission has yet to act on it.
“We need leadership and action from Gov. Sununu now to lower energy costs for the people of New Hampshire,” Watters said. “This means a revised state energy plan committed to the new renewable energy economy and joining all other New England states in proven strategies to cut CO2 emissions and create jobs.”
Benjamin Vihstadt, the governor’s communications director, criticized Democrats for holding what he called a politically driven press conference on the same day a state trooper was killed in the line of duty on I-95.
He called it a “new low for the Democrats.”
“Their baseless statements are an attempt to distract from the skyrocketing national costs as a result of Democrat control in D.C.,” Vihstadt said. “The costs of everything from home heating fuel to a carton of eggs have seen huge inflationary price increases since Joe Biden was elected. Demand for natural gas is increasing while we have seen flat production since the President took office.”
He said the governor has led on “New Hampshire focused energy solutions like municipal net metering and offshore wind – and no matter how many remote zoom calls the Democrats hold will not change these facts.”
The governor did veto several net metering bills that would have expanded the program to larger entities like municipalities and school districts as well as businesses.
The Democrats disagree with Vihstadt’s assessment saying the state is not keeping up with the region.
New Hampshire is falling behind other New England states in moving away from fossil fuels and encouraging cleaner, more efficient energy production, said House Science, Technology and Energy Committee member Rep. Kat McGhee, D-Hollis.
“While the rest of the region is lowering energy costs through better planning and execution of their transition to clean energy,” she said, “New Hampshire is looking to recommit to higher fossil fuel dependence, which in an age of climate disruption, can only lead to higher costs. ”
She said the governor’s failed leadership has taken its toll at the Public Utilities Commission and the creation of the new Department of Energy has people in charge who do not have experience in the field.
“New Hampshire’s energy economy, regional competitiveness, and transition plan to cleaner energy sources in a critical time according to all scientific analysis,” McGhee said, “might warrant the appointment of an actual energy professional.”
The people of New Hampshire need to understand the governor’s policies favor his campaign donors over Granite Staters, she said.
“We cannot get back these lost Sununu years” McGhee said. “He is doing his utmost to cement a future that undoes all the work New Hampshire has done to require less fuel from out-of-state.”
Instead of using Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative funds as investments in energy efficiency as the other states did, New Hampshire used it for scanty customer refunds, said Oxenham, and let the VW settlement money sit there instead of investing in electric vehicle infrastructure.
“Year after year, and veto after veto, Granite Staters have seen their energy costs go up,” she said, “while Sununu pursues policies that leave New Hampshire families and communities behind and vulnerable to escalating costs and disasters.”
But Sununu’s spokesperson said he has saved state residents money and blocked more radical proposals from Democrats.
“If not for the Governor’s vetoes of extremely radical Democrat legislation,” Vihstadt said, “New Hampshire ratepayers would be on the hook for hundreds of millions of dollars of additional costs on top of what we are already seeing with virtually no environmental benefit.”
The Democrats noted the governor vetoed a number of bills that would have helped cities and towns as well as all ratepayers lower the cost of electricity.
They also urged the governor to utilize the increased federal funding for the Low-Income Energy Assistance Program under the federal recovery plan to help people heat their homes this winter.
Watters said the higher heating costs could mean some low-income families may be unable to afford their rent or their medications.
And they said the governor needs to move more quickly to encourage offshore wind generation which will mean millions of dollars of economic activity and hundreds of jobs.
Garry Rayno may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.