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Twice in a year, NH governor vetoes bill to raise solar net metering cap

Opposed to what he claimed would lead to shifting the financial burden of net metering onto other ratepayers, New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu has once again vetoed legislation raising the cap on metering for customer-owned solar generation.

In his June 3 veto message of House Bill 365, Sununu, a Republican, slammed the bill for amounting to "a regressive cost burden on citizens that benefits large-scale solar developers while hurting all [non-net metered] ratepayers, including the elderly and those on fixed incomes."

Like in neighboring Maine, utilities and some policymakers believe the growing share of net metered distributed solar generation is shifting the costs of maintaining transmission and distribution unfairly on to other consumers.

Passed in a May 2 voice vote by the New Hampshire General Court's House of Representatives that concurred with the state Senate's 254-98 passage, H.B. 365 sought to raise the net metering cap from 1 MW nameplate capacity to up to 5 MW nameplate capacity for behind-the-meter customer-owned and -operated generators eligible for compensation.

As defined by state statute, such "customer-generators" that help to offset customers' own electricity needs must either be powered by renewable resources or employ a "heat led combined heat and power system" located behind a retail meter on a customer's premises while still interconnected with the electric grid. According to the state Public Utilities Commission, only 25 existing projects could have eventually become eligible for net metering under the raised net metering cap.

While still reaffirming his commitment to advancing renewable energy growth within the state, Sununu said H.B. 365's "subsidy" would have "cost ratepayers hundreds of millions of dollars in higher electric bills."

The measure's predecessor, Senate Bill 446, passed the legislature in 2018 but was vetoed by Sununu in June 2018. A subsequent attempt by lawmakers to override that veto failed when the House fell short of a needed two-thirds majority.

"We should not allow our good intentions to mask a bad policy," Sununu said of his latest veto. "We should not force our ratepayers to massively subsidize those who can afford to construct 40-acre solar farms. Rather, New Hampshire should focus on advancing policies that limit the harm to our ratepayers and target the benefits of renewable energy to those most in need."

Sununu said that some municipality governments mistakenly believe that the legislation would help them reduce their property tax burden without shifting those costs elsewhere. "Any perceived tax savings from a net-metered solar project are cost-shifted to ratepayers across New Hampshire," he said.

New Hampshire Public Radio cited uncertainty over whether lawmakers will attempt to override the governor this go-around as H.B. 365 originally passed with 20 votes over the two-thirds majority threshold but the Senate passed it in a unanimous voice vote where some opponents may have abstained.

In a statement, the Business and Industry Association, New Hampshire's statewide chamber of commerce and leading business advocate, applauded the vetoing of H.B. 365. While not opposed to raising the cap on net metering, BIA President Jim Roche explained that the association opposed the bill because it would have resulted "in cost-shifting to the business community since the tariff (or credit) given to net metering customers would be above the utility's avoided cost."

Conversely, New Hampshire's Consumer Advocate D. Maurice Kreis said in an email, "I am genuinely perplexed by the idea that large customers ... would bear costs associated with raising the net metering cap to 4.99999 MW. If there’s a basis for not allocating these costs across all customer classes I sheepishly confess I’m not aware of it. Have I missed something?"