BY: Citizens Count
On Tuesday, January 9 the New Hampshire House passed a bill that would require legislative approval to change part of electricity rates.
The bill, HB 317, is aimed at the System Benefits Charge.
About the System Benefits Charge
The System Benefits Charge, created in 1996, funds energy efficiency programs and energy assistance programs for low-income residents. The charge amounts to about $2 per month for the average residential customer. Scheduled increases will raise that charge to about $4 per month by 2020.
New Hampshire also funds energy efficiency programs with proceeds from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative.
Legislative approval for System Benefits Charge changes?
HB 317 would require legislative approval for any change to the System Benefits Charge, except for the already scheduled increase.
Currently, it’s the New Hampshire Public Utilities Commission that oversees changes to the charge, and changes don’t require approval from elected officials.
Supporters argue the System Benefits Charge is essentially a tax, so it only makes sense for the Legislature to be involved in any increase.
“New Hampshire’s energy customers pay some of the highest electricity rates in the United States. This bill will ensure that any proposed increase in the System Benefits Charge will be subject to legislative approval and is in the best interest of the people and businesses of New Hampshire.”
Leave electricity charges to the Public Utilities Commission?
Opponents of HB 317 argue that the Legislature is not qualified to make any decisions about electricity rates. The Public Utilities Commission also already considers public opinion when it sets the System Benefits Charge, through a hearing process.
“Subjecting this small charge to the political process of the legislature may threaten its very existence, which would eviscerate NH’s still modest but vital commitment to achieving all cost effective energy efficiency, as well as threatening low income assistance programs.
HB 317 now heads to the Senate.
Do you have an opinion on the System Benefits Charge? Share your thoughts in the comments below.