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Legislative Roundup on Energy from the New England States

On Thursday, September 10, The New England Clean Energy Council (NECEC) hosted its third annual Legislative Roundup. The event brought together clean energy advocates and technology developers from around the Northeast to discuss the region’s latest policies and their impact on residents, businesses, and other key entities. The panel presentation, moderated by NECEC President Peter Rothstein and NECEC VP of Policy and Government Affairs Janet Gail Besser, included Jeff Marks of E2Tech, Kate Epsen of the New Hampshire Sustainable Energy Association, Gabrielle Stebbins of Renewable Energy Vermont, as well as Dan Bosley and Sue AnderBois, both of NECEC. Read below for a look at the latest in regional energy policy trends:

  • Vermont: Stebbins’ presentation focused on the legislature’s passage of Act 56, which establishes a renewable portfolio standard and takes a three tiered approach to increasing the state’s renewable energy consumption. The first tier sets renewable energy credit (REC) ratio goals for renewably sourced retail electricity sales, mandating 55% by 2017, rising to 75% by 2032. Qualified renewable resources that already exist in Vermont are expected to provide for the initial 55% requirement, with new resources contributing to the increases over time. Tier two mandates an increase in utility electricity purchased from distributed generation (1% by 2017 and 10% by 2032), while tier three is an “energy innovation tier” that offers incentives for other improvements, including electric vehicles. With an RPS adopted, the state now focuses on possible net metering changes. Vermont’s public service board is currently developing regulations for the program.
  • Rhode Island: Sue AnderBois gave a presentation on legislative developments in Rhode Island, noting that newly-elected Governor Gina Raimondo is a big advocate for clean energy. The state’s 2015 budget created a “green bank” (called the Rhode Island Infrastructure Bank), a commercial PACE program, and extended “least cost” clean energy procurement requirements (mainly energy efficiency) through 2023. Looking ahead, energy watchers from around the region are closely monitoring the Rhode Island Public Utility Commission’s grid modernization initiative. In August, National Grid submitted a proposal to the Commission that has stirred up controversy because it includes an “access fee” for DG customers.
  • New Hampshire: According to Kate Epsen, New Hampshire’s legislative outlook on energy “started tough, but turned out positively.” Governor Hassan prevented a legislative effort to pull out of RGGI and signed bills to open an informational docket on grid modernization as well as setting a goal for limiting peak electricity demand. Possibly the most significant development is the creation of a commercial PACE program. A non-profit will run the program, which makes New Hampshire’s PACE program the first without any administration by a state agency.
  • Maine: Maine’s legislative session, according to Jeff Marks, was characterized by clashes between Governor Paul LePage and the legislature. The Governor issued a historic 170 vetoes as retribution for lawmakers’ rejection of his initiatives, and the legislature has responded with 120 overrides. To add fuel to the fire, LePage lost a lawsuit against the legislature over an additional 65 vetoes which were ruled invalid because the Governor issued them after his 10 day action window had expired. This contentious dynamic impacted all policy areas, including energy. LePage sponsored bills to remove the state’s 100MW hydroelectric power limit and weaken building energy codes, both of which were killed. The legislature also overrode his veto of a bill that restored $38 million in energy efficiency funding. Looking ahead, the legislature enacted a bill (over another LePage veto) that directs the Maine PUC to get stakeholder feedback on a net metering alternative. This initiative is seen as an opportunity for utilities and solar advocates to create an innovative and sustainable incentive policy. The legislature will take up a bill based on the study’s recommendations next year.
  • Massachusetts: Massachusetts, according to former state representative Dan Bosley, has been slow to finalize energy bills in part due to the arrival of so many new plyers: new Governor, new Senate President, new House Energy Chairman, new Attorney General and new leaders in the energy agencies, DOER and DPU. Nevertheless, in July, the Senate passed legislation sponsored by Energy Committee Chairman Senator Ben Downing that would raise the solar net metering caps immediately to 1,600MW and establish a framework for solar incentives thereafter. In early August, Governor Baker responded with his own solar bill that would also raise the caps, but more modestly, to 6% of electricity demand for private projects and 7% for public projects and reducing the value of incentives after 1,600 MWs have been achieved. Meanwhile, the House, for its part, is expected to release a comprehensive energy bill sometime this fall that will include a solar component. Other items on the horizon are a debate over Governor Baker’s hydroelectric legislation, a possible approval for commercial PACE, and utility submissions for the DPU’s grid modernization order.
  • Connecticut: Janet Besser gave a brief update on energy legislation in Connecticut. This session the state passed a bill allowing its Department of Energy and Environmental Protection to put out simultaneous procurements in three areas: energy efficiency, large renewables, and natural gas. The legislature also passed a 3 year community solar bill with a two project pilot and enacted the Solar Home Renewable Energy Credit (SHREC) Program. According to Besser, the state would like to have a regional procurement with Massachusetts and Rhode Island settled before year’s end to take advantage of tax credits.

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G. Patrick Regan