This was a good week for New Hampshire’s environment and its fast-growing clean energy economy.
The New Hampshire House of Representatives approved three major bills aimed at promoting solar and other clean energy projects in our state. The body also approved two separate bills aimed at reducing single-use plastics such as shopping bags and straws.
HB 365 is perhaps the most significant of these bills. It would raise the cap on renewable energy projects that take advantage of net metering from 1 mW to 5 mW. In short, it would allow much larger projects than under current law. Net metering is a process whereby utilities like Eversource buy power from a renewable project and credit the value of that power back to energy customers.
This bill closely mirrors SB 446 from last session. That bill garnered wide approval in the then-Republican controlled Legislature, but came 14 votes short of overriding Gov. Chris Sununu’s veto. His veto killed a $20 million privately-funded solar net metering project proposed in Dover that could have saved city taxpayers $300,000 a year in energy costs.
The fate of that $20 million project envisioned at the Tolend Road landfill is uncertain, according to city officials. However, more than two-dozen other municipalities, including Manchester, Nashua and Franklin, are considering similar projects. If built, these would create jobs, provide a degree of property tax relief and greatly expand our clean energy footprint.
Perhaps most significantly, the measure passed the House with a veto-proof 254-98 margin.
A similar measure, HB 466, also passed by a wide margin. It would raise the cap on residential-sized net metering projects from 100 kW to 500 kW. This would allow much larger rooftop and backyard solar projects and further stoke our state’s fast-growing clean energy sector, which employs more than 1,000 people statewide.
Another clean energy bill, HB 592, would boost funding for the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative. RGGI, as it is known, is comprised of 10 northeastern states with a single focus on reducing greenhouse gas through clean energy and efficiency programs that benefit utility customers.
Under current law, all but $1 is rebated to utility customers. This bill would end that practice for residential customers only, who are unlikely to notice any meaningful change on their electrical bill. Commercial and industrial users would see no change. The net result will be more funding for RGGI’s clean-energy initiatives.
Finally, in bipartisan fashion, the House approved HB 614, which increases state penalties for air and water pollution, and also voted to take immediate action to clean up the Coakley Landfill in North Hampton.
Rep. Judith Spang (D-Durham) introduced two successful measures aimed at reducing plastic pollution. HB 558 would effectively ban plastic straws at foodservice establishments unless the customer requested one. The other would require stores larger than 1,000 square feet to stop giving out single-use plastic bags. Instead they would need to offer paper or recycled plastic bags at 10 cents apiece.
These aren’t particularly radical ideas. Several states and large cities, including Boston, have similar laws in place. Aldi, which is building a supermarket in Dover, already charges customers for bags, presumably with no ill effect to its business. A handful of local businesses, including Adelle’s Coffeehouse, hand out straws only upon request.
Ninety percent of single-use plastic is used once then thrown away. In developed economies like the United States, much of this waste ends up in landfills and only a tiny fraction is recycled. Even so, plastic pollution is a growing problem worldwide. Plastic and microplastic particles have been found in even the most remote parts of the world’s oceans. Marine animals consume this plastic, often killing them slowly. Plastic also ends up in water bodies used for public drinking water and in fish that humans consume.
These bills are a small step toward reducing this kind of pollution and practically speaking would have only a marginal impact, if any, on most people.