Governments regularly take hits from critics for inefficiency, incompetence and simply for making mistakes. But, from time to time, one learns about government operating very well.
That was the case from testimony before the Energy and Natural Resources Committee as we discussed a bill (SB 252) to increase the maximum term for energy performance contracts from 10 to 20 years. Energy performance contracting allows state government and municipalities to upgrade to facilities using the energy savings produced to pay back the cost of the improvements.
It sounds a bit complicated. The key is that the state or local government entity can pay back the costs of improving energy efficiency with the money saved in energy costs over 10 years. The legislation proposes to increase the payback period to 20 years.
Back in 2005, Governor Lynch issued an executive order setting a goal of reducing energy use in state government by 10 percent. By 2011, the state had exceeded that goal reducing energy use per square foot of space by 16 percent.
The energy performance contracting process has contributed to the lowering of energy use and thereby energy costs. Since its inception, Michael Connor, the Director of Plant and Property Management at the Department of Administrative Services, reported that "the state has successfully completed seven projects at 74 state facilities totaling 2.2 million square feet. The total cost of the projects was $11,092,750 with total annual savings of $1,176,505 for an average payback period of 9.43 years."
Mr. Connor continued: "In addition to monetary savings, the state was also able to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 7,010 tons per year while reducing sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide emissions by 11 and 4 tons annually."
The legislature has passed legislation and the Governor has issued another executive order requiring the state to reduce fossil fuel consumption by 25 percent by 2025. Being energy efficient lowers our dependence on foreign fuels, lowers energy expenses and helps the environment. This is one area of state government where we might offer praise of "good job" and "thank you."
At a recent leadership meeting, Senate President Peter Bragdon (Milford) declared with a bit of humor, this is a "House Bill 648 free zone." That was at the height of the back and forth debate on how far the legislature needed to go to prevent a private entity from using eminent domain to acquire property for private gain.
The Senate established its position last week when we voted 23 to 1 for an amended HB 648. The amendment sponsored by Senators Bragdon, Senator Forrester (Meredith) and a couple of others makes it clear a utility, such as Public Service of New Hampshire, cannot use eminent domain when it is for a project from which private investors and not rate payers would benefit.
While those involved will say the issue is about eminent domain, the issue is only before us because of Northern Pass. Northern Pass is the large proposed project to bring power from Quebec through New Hampshire and on to southern New England. Northeast Utilities, the owner of PSNH, would build, own and operate the Northern Pass transmission system.
To get to its right-of-ways further south from Canada, PSNH needs some land in Coos County. Critics of Northern Pass accuse PSNH of threatening property owners that the company would use eminent domain if they do not agree to sell to them . PSNH denies the allegations. True or not, the accusations have enflamed an organized group of North County citizens to press the legislature to reaffirm that utilities cannot use eminent domain to get land to build a privately or shareholder owned project like Northern Pass.
The House passed a different version of HB 648 last spring by an overwhelming vote of 317 to 51. The Senate Judiciary Committee, chaired by Senator Matt Houde (Plainfield), found the bill needed more work. The committee worked on the bill through the fall and amended the it. On the floor last week, Senator voted 16 to 8 for the Bragdon-Forrester amendment.
Now, the House will decide whether to accept the bill as changed by the Senate or to call for a committee of conference to iron out differences between the two versions of the bill. If that can be done, the bill will go to the Governor for signature.
The legislative process on this bill has consumed months of attention of a hard working group of Senators. But that process, when followed, produces the best legislative results for all citizens of New Hampshire.
There are 11 new faces in the State House. The interns for 2012 arrived last week. Desks are moved into niches in offices and along crowded hallways. With introductions made and tasks assignes, the students put on their nametags and began their work assisting Senators and permanent staff members. It is always a cheerful time around the Senate offices when the interns arrive.
Nine of the interns attend the University of New Hampshire and there is one each from St. Anselm and Colby Sawyer. The intern from Colby Sawyer is Elizabeth Allen from Holden, MA. She is a senior majoring in history. Another intern is Megan Trow from Walpole who graduated from Fall Mountain High School. She is a junior at UNH with a dual major in political science and justice studies.
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