FILE - New Hampshire State Capitol (House of Representatives)

The New Hampshire House of Representatives at the Capitol in Concord, New Hampshire.  

(The Center Square) – New Hampshire lawmakers are moving to re-institute a state energy efficiency program that was defunded by utility regulators.

Legislation approved by the state House of Representatives last Thursday and headed for the Senate would restore funding to the state's efficiency program at 2020 levels. 

The bill is aimed at resurrecting the popular NHSaves program that saw its funding gutted by the state Public Utilities Commission in a controversial decision.

The commission, which regulates the state's utility companies, voted in November to reject a three-year energy efficiency plan and slashed funding for energy efficiency programs over the next two years in a move aimed at providing relief to energy consumers who help fund the program.

The move sent shockwaves through the state's clean energy sector, which said the decision will cost jobs, set back climate change goals and hurt the state's economic growth. 

Gov. Chris Sununu wrote to the commissioners in December, urging them to find a way to fund the state's energy efficiency program without increasing costs for ratepayers.

The NHSaves program provides rebates and other incentives to homeowners and businesses to install energy-efficient heating and cooling systems in hopes of reducing the use of natural gas, heating oil and other fossil fuels. The program is funded by a surcharge on utility bills.

Commissioners who voted to cut funding for the program cited the increase in surcharges tacked onto consumer's utility bills, which would have risen to an average of $70 a year.

The alternative order issued by the commission will cut the average monthly surcharge to about $20 a year by 2023. Currently, the average household pays about $40 a year. 

But Democrats and environmental groups say the rejection of the original plan is "troubling" and will result in higher electric bills because energy efficiency reduces consumption.  

Clean energy groups say the decision also hurt businesses that work on energy efficiency projects throughout the state. 

Last month, Clean Energy New Hampshire filed a lawsuit against the commission on behalf of contractors who will lose business as a result of its decision to defund the program.

The lawsuit claims that the PUC's order will prevent businesses from making sizable investments in their energy efficiency that stimulate the economy and cut costs.

On Friday, the commission rejected a request to reconsider funding for the program giving supporters 30 days to appeal the decision to the state Supreme Court.