(The Center Square) – New Hampshire regulators have approved a new energy efficiency plan that calls for spending nearly $224 million over the next year.
A new order issued by the state Public Utilities Commission will fund several programs that provide rebates and incentives for upgrades to residential, commercial and industrial buildings to modernize heating and hot water equipment, install LED lighting, and other energy-efficient measures.
The new energy efficiency plan also includes $3.9 million for a program to help cities and towns improve the efficiency of municipal buildings and public schools.
The state's main energy efficiency program, NHSaves, 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, which is currently about $40 a year.
A previously approved state law set rates for the energy efficiency program at the same level as 2021, with future increases in the charges tied to inflation.
The issuance of the order is a reversal for the regulatory agency, which last year voted to reject a three-year $378 million plan for NHSaves and slashed funding for the program.
Commissioners who voted to defund the program complained that the proposal would have led to higher residential and commercial utility bills to fund efficiency surcharges.
Currently, the average household pays about $40 a year through a so-called System Benefits Charge tacked onto utility bills. The plan had called for increasing that to $70 a year.
But the decision 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.
In January, 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.
Efforts to revive the NHSaves program were backed by Republican Gov. Chris Sununu, who wrote to lawmakers urging them to approve a bipartisan proposal to restore funding.
The Office of the Consumer Advocate appealed the panel's rejection of the plan to the New Hampshire Supreme Court, and a settlement was worked out.
In its order restoring funding for the program, PUC commissioners wrote it was "just and reasonable and in the public interest" to approve the settlement but vowed to continue its efforts to keep energy costs down for consumers.