News of a massive rate hike for Granite State electric customers sparked an immediate reaction from state Sen. Tom Sherman’s campaign as it tried to pin the blame on Gov. Chris Sununu.
But in a simple, two-paragraph press release, the Democratic candidate for governor both fouled up the facts and put the focus on his own record of supporting green policies that even its advocates admit would drive up utility bills.
“Shameless Sherman should probably figure out what the governor actually does before he runs for the job,” said GOP strategist Dave Carney.
On Monday, Liberty Utilities filed a proposal with the state’s Public Utilities Commission that included an increase in the default energy service rate from 11.11. cents per kilowatt-hour to 22.23 cents. It would result in a net increase of 47 percent for consumers. On Thursday, the state’s largest energy provider, Eversource, proposed a new default energy service rate of 22.566 cents per kWh, a net 53 percent cost increase to customers.
“Today’s rate increase is a policy failure years in the making,” Sherman said in a press release. “Chris Sununu has repeatedly vetoed bipartisan clean energy initiatives that would shift our reliance off of fossil fuels and increase our investments in clean energy. These are not theoretical debates. They are pocketbook issues that are going to have a direct impact on Granite Staters ability to heat their homes this winter and keep them cool this summer.”
And, Sherman added, “Sununu’s Public Utilities Commission” should simply stop the rate hikes.
“The PUC Commissioners, all appointed by Gov. Sununu, have the option under the public interest standard of modifying, denying, or approving a requested rate increase,” according to Sherman’s press release.
There is only one problem: Every claim Sherman made is factually incorrect.
“Sen. Sherman has no idea how rates are set or how the PUC works,” says former PUC commissioner Michael Harrington. “First, it is not ‘Sununu’s PUC.’ The PUC is an entirely independent agency that takes no direction from the governor. The governor, of course, can file comments on PUC proceedings, but the PUC is under no obligation to follow them. PUC decisions can be appealed to the New Hampshire Supreme Court, nobody else.”
Harrington, a GOP state representative who serves on the House Science, Technology and Energy Committee, points out the prices from Liberty and Eversource essentially are “pass-throughs” based on what the utilities are paying for electricity in the marketplace. New Hampshire Consumer Advocate Donald Kreis made a similar point on Twitter Thursday.
“As I said with Liberty, I do not think the NHPUC has much choice but to approve the rate, which results from a competitive wholesale RFP [Request For Proposal],” the nonpartisan advocate said.
Asked by NHJournal if Sherman’s statement about the PUC’s power to simply prevent these rate hikes is true, Kreis replied with a one-word email: “No.”
While public utility experts were puzzled by Sherman’s lack of knowledge regarding a basic function of the governor’s office, political insiders were stunned the Rye progressive would want to pick a fight over electricity bills, given his green energy record.
Sherman says Sununu’s vetoes of green energy policies like net metering and expanded renewable energy subsidies drove energy prices higher. His claims run counter to the facts about how those green energy policies work.
Take, for example, the Transportation and Climate Initiative (TCI), supported by Sherman and many of his fellow Democrats but opposed by Sununu. The TCI was a proposal to use a cap-and-trade pricing approach to drive down greenhouse gas emissions and generate revenues for transportation infrastructure among New England and Mid-Atlantic states. It would have added about 25 cents to every gallon of gas.
“Gov. Sununu has been a national leader in the effort to keep electricity costs and gas prices down,” says Greg Moore, state director for Americans for Prosperity New Hampshire. “The TCI was a backdoor gas tax that would have added a quarter per gallon to the price of gas and diesel. Gov. Sununu was the first to come out and make clear that New Hampshire would not be participating.”
The TCI compact eventually died due to a lack of participation.
Sununu also vetoed net metering expansion that would have added millions of dollars of costs to utility customers each year, a plan also supported by Sherman.
In the state House, then-Rep. Sherman voted against giving revenue from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative directly to ratepayers. In the Senate, he voted to take the money back from ratepayers and put it into government spending. Both were votes to raise utility bills, though not by much.
“The so-called clean energy bills that Sununu vetoed would have done nothing to mitigate these rate increases. They all involved new or increased ratepayer subsidies to so-called clean energy generators and would have raised rates,” Harrington said.
Andrew Cline, president of the free-market think tank the Josiah Bartlett Center for Public Policy, was even more direct.
“It’s insane to think renewable energy subsidies would prevent this rate increase, which is caused by global and regional energy supply shortages, including a shortage of pipeline capacity to New England. It’s a fantasy that we can power the state on wind and solar.
“And by the way, Jeanne Shaheen marched in protests against the Seabrook nuclear plant and helped prevent the construction of the second reactor. Maybe we should blame her.”
NHJournal repeatedly asked Sherman and his campaign to give an example of a Sununu energy policy that puts upward pressure on electric rates or to explain how the green energy policies he supports would lower prices today.
Sherman declined to respond.
The surge in electricity prices comes on the heels of soaring gasoline prices, and they reflect the same trend: Higher prices for energy and the fossil fuels like oil and natural gas used to generate it.
According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), more than half of New Hampshire’s electricity generation is from nuclear energy and about 25 percent comes from natural gas. And that, says Marc Brown, means this problem is not going away.
“These rate increases are not going to be isolated to New Hampshire,” said Brown, executive director of Northeast for the Consumer Energy Alliance. “New Hampshire and the entire northeast have enjoyed relatively low natural gas prices for the past decade. Unfortunately, radical fearmongering activists who have no idea how the economy or a reliable electricity grid function have opposed every effort to increase pipeline capacity to meet New England’s growing energy demand.
“This is no way to run a modern economy, and the people getting hurt the most are those on fixed incomes or living in poverty,” Brown added.
The target of Sherman’s attacks shrugged them off.
“The governor has stood against over a dozen bills and policies that would have increased energy costs for Granite Staters,” said spokesperson Ben Vihstadt.
“New Hampshire Democrats have tried to follow the Massachusetts clean energy model. According to EIA Data, from 2016 to 2021, if New Hampshire residential retail customers had seen the same percentage increase that Massachusetts customers had, Granite State residential customers would have paid over $100 million more this year.
“If the governor had not stood up for New Hampshire ratepayers, we would be in an even worse position today,” Vihstadt said.