CONTACT: Elliott Winter, Elliott@environmentnewhampshire.org
Concord, NH – With one solar panel in the state for every 14 people, New Hampshire found itself in the middle of the pack for solar power capacity in an annual ranking, but utilities like Eversource Energy continue to push for policies that would hinder consumers from going solar.
Environment New Hampshire Research & Policy Center’s new study shows that as embattled utilities witness the growing popularity and adoption of solar energy across the country, they’re preparing for battle everywhere they can. While they may be fighting the hardest where solar is flourishing the most, they aren’t confining their attacks to the top solar states.
“The question is, will New Hampshire capitalize on the growing clean energy economy with more clean energy and more local jobs, or will we fall behind,” said Elliott Winter with Environment New Hampshire. “We’ve got plenty of sunshine but we need leadership at all levels with a commitment to clean energy policies.”
This year New Hampshire reached a limit on the state’s most successful solar program, net metering. This prompted action from Gov. Maggie Hassan and state leaders to double the existing cap on the amount of solar energy that could be credited back to consumers in the state from 50MW to 100MW, allowing more solar projects to move forward.
A recent study by Stark Research Analytics found that 4 out of 5 New Hampshire residents surveyed support solar power and 70% support net metering laws like the one passed by Gov. Hassan this year.
A related bill signed by the governor sets off a solar valuation hearing at the New Hampshire Public Utility Commission to determine the value of net metered solar systems, a key policy that has fostered solar growth in New Hampshire and other states. Recent studies have shown that when all environmental and societal benefits are taken into account, distributed solar is typically worth more than even what customers in most states receive today. Despite this, utilities like Eversource continue to push for lower net metering credits for solar customers.
“We know that solar users are givers, not takers, when it comes to the benefits they provide to the energy grid and society,” said Winter. “Reducing the need for new expensive power plants and reducing carbon pollution causing climate change are just two of the many benefits rooftop solar provides us – regulators need to take those benefits into account.”
Debates around net metering credits and caps have taken center stage in recent years because of the immense growth of both solar power and support for solar power here in New Hampshire. Since 2012, solar power energy has increased by more than 800% in both per capita production and in cumulative solar capacity. The report ranks New Hampshire 16th for solar capacity per capita installations in 2015 and 25th for cumulative solar energy per capita as of year-end 2015.
The study’s top states for solar capacity per capita -- Nevada, Hawaii, California, Arizona, North Carolina, New Jersey, Vermont, New Mexico, Massachusetts and Colorado – have for years held in common pro-clean energy policies, such as strong net metering programs and interconnection standards.
But the inducements for growing numbers of homes, businesses and schools to go solar are increasingly under attack by utilities, who view distributed clean energy generation and buying back excess energy as a direct threat to their business model.
Last year utilities convinced officials in Hawaii as well as Nevada to eliminate their net metering programs. Arizona’s utility commission raised fees on rooftop solar customers and is considering further increases. And early this year solar proponents narrowly defeated a high-profile lobbying attempt by California’s largest and most powerful utility companies to do away with that state’s net metering program.
Yet attacks like these haven’t yet stemmed the tide of solar power. In February, solar reached a milestone of 1 million installations across the country, and is expected to add another million in just two years’ time.
Solar energy can also help New Hampshire meet goals to reduce carbon pollution fueling global warming, the report notes. This would support New Hampshire’s efforts in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative to solve climate change using clean energy; many of these measures are supported within New Hampshire’s faith community.
“Climate change poses potentially catastrophic risks for both the environment and mankind, so morally we must do whatever we can to mitigate those risks,” said Mike Flemming of the Durham Unitarian Universalist Fellowship, the first solar powered house of worship and member of the Seacoast Interfaith Stewards of the Earth. “Solar power is one way to reduce the burning of fossil fuels, which--by producing carbon dioxide--is the major cause of those risks.”
Environment New Hampshire is a state-wide, citizen-based environmental advocacy organization working for clean air, clean water and open space.