Protecting the People and the Planet
Don Kreis is a Big Picture Guy with Eyes on the Prize
If you are one of the many people who find their eyes glazing over when people begin talking about utility law, the Grid, Megawatts, Negawatts and other such terminology you may be tempted to skip listening to this Podcast with NH Public Utility Consumer Advocate Don Kries. DON'T. You will learn more than you expect, be entertained and find yourself feeling that there really is someone in NH government who is looking after both the planet and the average joe both. We are lucky to have Don Kries and you will be very glad to have listened to what he has to say about where we have been, where we are and where we need to go with respect to developing a greener, more energy efficient and economically vibrant world.
Now you may or may not know that Gary Ghioto and I have been working on a podcast about the Northern Pass battle. When we first began the project we thought it was going to be a fairly simple project. After all we were not trying to tell the story from all the different angles, we were really simply intending to celebrate the greatest David and Goliath victory of the new century and the triumph of landscape and place in New Hampshire. However, the deeper we dove into the pitched battle that led to a unanimous decision against NH's largest Utility company and Hydro-Quebec by the NH Site Evaluation Committee the more we realized that there was an even larger story to be told that ran the gamut from utility deregulation, Global Climate Change, the importance of Landscape in our lives, the remarkable ability of the people of NH to overcome a national partisan paralysis in order to fight for their heritage and land, Corporate greed and hubrus, and more.
The relationship between the Northern Pass Battle and Climate Change and its existential threat to our
The political, social and democratic systems that govern utility law differ from state to state but there are fundamental principles that apply and there are many ways in which states and the federal government cooperate to assure the resilience of our power grid. The recent meltdown of the "system" in Texas is one example of the challenges that confront us as we make our way to a world where sustainable energy, conservation, and democratic values help define a greener and brighter future.
This Podcast - With Donald Maurice Kreis - Public Utilities Consumer Advocate in the state of New Hampshire and one of today's most thoughtful - and at times provocative - thinkers leads the listener through a virtual primer on the changes taking place in the world of Utility regulation, electric generation and transmission and the concomitant challenges presented in light of those changes. While some of the references are more parochial in nature, the ideas and insights offered by Don Kreis provide a view into the challenges ahead throughout the industry that are transferrable across the North American landscape.
Q&A with PUC Consumer Advocate Donald Kreis
June 24, 2016
PHOTO BY JODIE ANDRUSKEVICH
An Unconstitutional Bill from the Negawatt Naysayers
By DONALD M. KREIS, Power to the People April 3, 2021
Donald M. Kreis, New Hampshire Consumer Advocate
Power to the People is a column by Donald M. Kreis, New Hampshire’s Consumer Advocate. Kreis and his staff of four represent the interests of residential utility customers before the NH Public Utilities Commission and elsewhere.
By DONALD M. KREIS, Power to the People
If our state’s Energy Efficiency Resource Standard has a future – and, as the state’s ratepayer advocate, I’m here to say it should – we just might have Jagdish Rai Chadha, a former Kenyan exchange student, to thank.
Let me explain.
Forty-nine year ago, Chadha was pursuing a master’s degree at Bowling Green University in Ohio when his visa expired. He had a problem: newly independent, Kenya wouldn’t take him back because his parents were from India and, thus, British subjects. India wouldn’t take him because he was Kenyan.
Here in the U.S., immigration authorities began deportation proceedings. Then the authorities suspended the deportation under a federal law that allowed Chadha to stay in the U.S., but only if neither the House of Representatives nor the Senate vetoed the bureaucrats’ decision to stay the deportation.
The House passed such a veto resolution. Deportation proceedings resumed. Chadha appealed.
The result was a landmark ruling in 1983 by the U.S. Supreme Court. The Court declared the so-called one-house legislative veto to be in violation the “bicameralism” and “presentment” clauses of the U.S. Constitution. Basically, the only way Congress can make law is by having both chambers pass identical legislation (“bicameralism”) and then present the bill to the president for signature or veto (“presentment”).
What the heck, you might wonder, does that have to do with ratepayer-funded energy efficiency in New Hampshire? I’m glad you asked.
The New Hampshire House votes this week on HB 351, which would drastically and permanently curtail the ability of the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) to increase the System Benefits Charge (SBC) on your electric bill.
Some of the SBC pays for bill assistance for low-income customers. But the rest provides the bulk of the revenue for NHSaves – the programs electric and natural gas utilities provide to meet the Energy Efficiency Resource Standard (EERS).
|Mad River Abstract #6|
The EERS is a great deal for ratepayers. Why? Because there’s a rigorous cost-benefit test. Every penny spent by NHSaves must deliver net benefits to all customers (not just those smart enough to take advantage of the programs).
Energy efficiency also stacks up really well against the alternatives. “Negawatts” – getting more work out of each unit of energy consumed – are cheaper than megawatts (producing and distributing more electricity) when it comes to meeting the next unit of demand.
But the EERS has its ideological opponents in the Legislature. They argue that if energy efficiency were such a great idea then customers would simply invest in it themselves. They contend that the System Benefits Charge is the equivalent of a tax (even though the government neither collects, holds, nor spends the money).
The negawatt naysayers are about to prevail. The House votes this week on HB 351, which squeezed through the Science, Technology and Energy Committee on an 11-9, party-line vote.
If HB 351 becomes law, PUC approval of increases to the System Benefits Charge will no longer suffice. After endorsement from the regulators, such increases would only go into effect if approved by either the Legislature’s Joint Fiscal Committee or via regular legislation.
|The Whisper of Wind - Signed Original|
In other words, just as one chamber of Congress could overrule the Immigration and Naturalization Service (now known as ICE, Immigration and Customs Enforcement) on the deportation of Jagdish Rai Chadha, so now will one chamber of the New Hampshire General Court or even just a committee of the General Court be able to overrule the PUC on matters related to energy efficiency.
What an awful idea. New Hampshire lags behind the rest of New England on energy efficiency, which means we are ceding all kinds of economic advantages to our neighbors. Energy bills are higher than they would otherwise be as a result.
But it’s also unconstitutional, as the U.S. Supreme Court declared in its Chadha decision.
Of course the skeptical will point out that Chadha arose under the federal constitution, whereas it would be up to the New Hampshire Supreme Court to determine whether HB 351 violates the New Hampshire Constitution. But that document is modeled on its federal counterpart and contains similar bicameralism and presentment language. There is no reason to suppose the New Hampshire Supreme Court would reject the Chadha precedent.
The skeptical might also claim that HB 351 isn’t a one-house veto because the Legislature can approve an SBC increase via a bill adopted in both chambers and presented to the Governor. But when you think about it, that’s the functional equivalent of a one-chamber veto of a PUC decision.
Government is not supposed to work that way, under either our federal or state constitutions. Here’s what is supposed to happen.
The Legislature can set utility rates, including the System Benefits Charge, all by itself. Or it can choose to delegate that authority to an administrative agency – here, the Public Utilities Commission – with instructions to guide the regulators.
What the Legislature can’t do is delegate the authority, require supporters of energy efficiency to go through the regulatory process, and then require them to come back to the Legislature for lawmakers’ blessing. That’s inconsistent with the New Hampshire Constitution – or, at least, so I will argue to the New Hampshire Supreme Court if necessary.
Please help make that unnecessary. Call or write your House member before Wednesday and ask them to reject HB 351.
You can find your House member and contact information here.
You can watch the House sessions April, 7, 8 and 9 here.
Ratepayer-funded energy efficiency is officially in crisis here in New Hampshire. With HB 351 looming, the PUC has so far refused to approve the three-year energy efficiency plan that was supposed to go into effect on January 1 – more than three months ago!
The regulators know the negawatt naysayers are on the brink of prevailing. But energy efficiency is a good deal for ratepayers, so it’s time for the ratepayers to speak out.
|Aspenglow on the Roaring Fork River|
Amory Bloch Lovins (born 13 November 1947) is an American writer, physicist, and Chairman/Chief Scientist of the Rocky Mountain Institute. He has written on energy policy and related areas for four decades, and served on the National Petroleum Council, an oil industry lobbying group, from 2011–2018. In 1983, Lovins was awarded the Right Livelihood Award for "pioneering soft energy paths for global security." He was named by TIME magazine one of the World's 100 most influential people in 2009.
Lovins has promoted energy efficiency, the use of renewable energy sources, and the generation of energy at or near the site where the energy is actually used. Lovins has also advocated a "negawatt revolution" arguing that utility customers don't want kilowatt-hours of electricity; they want energy services. In the 1990s, his work with Rocky Mountain Institute included the design of an ultra-efficient automobile, the Hypercar.
Lovins does not see his energy ideas as green or left-wing, and he is an advocate of private enterprise and free market economics, the source of his multi-million dollar net worth. He notes that Rupert Murdoch has made News Corporation carbon-neutral, with savings of millions of dollars. But, says Lovins, large institutions are becoming more "gridlocked and moribund", and he supports the rise of "citizen organizations" around the world.
Lovins has received ten honorary doctorates and won many awards. He has provided expert testimony in eight countries, briefed 19 heads of state, and published 31 books. These books include Reinventing Fire, Winning the Oil Endgame, Small is Profitable, Brittle Power, and Natural Capitalism.
Soft energy paths
Solar energy technologies, such as solar water heaters, located on or near the buildings which they supply with energy, are a prime example of a soft energy technology.
Amory Lovins came to prominence in 1976 when he published an article in Foreign Affairs called "Energy Strategy: The Road Not Taken?" Lovins argued that the United States had arrived at an important crossroads and could take one of two paths. The first, supported by U.S. policy, promised a future of steadily increasing reliance on fossil fuels and nuclear fission, and had serious environmental risks. The alternative, which Lovins called "the soft path," favored "benign" sources of renewable energy like wind power and solar power, along with a heightened commitment to energy conservation and energy efficiency. In October 1977, The Atlantic ran a cover story on Lovins' ideas.
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Amory Lovins advocates "soft energy paths" involving efficient energy use, diverse and renewable energy sources, and special reliance on "soft energy technologies". Soft energy technologies are those based on solar, wind, biofuels, geothermal, etc. which are matched in scale and quality to their task. Residential solar energy technologies are prime examples of soft energy technologies and rapid deployment of simple, energy conserving, residential solar energy technologies is fundamental to a soft energy strategy.
Lovins has described the "hard energy path" as involving inefficient energy use and centralized, non-renewable energy sources such as fossil fuels. He believes soft path impacts are more "gentle, pleasant and manageable" than hard path impacts. These impacts range from the individual and household level to those affecting the very fabric of society at the national and international level.
Lovins on the Soft Path is an award-winning documentary film made by Amory and Hunter Lovins. It received many prizes: "Best Science and Technology Film, San Francisco International Film Festival, 1983; Blue Ribbon, American Film Festival, 1982; Best of the Festival, Environmental Education Film Festival, 1982; Best Energy Film, International Environmental Film Festival, 1982; and Chris Bronze Plaque, Columbus International Film Festival, 1982."
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