by Bob Haring-Smith, PREP Co-coordinator
Energy costs are rising at alarming rates, and energy efficiency is the most effective way to control those costs. This column will acquaint you with various resources available to residents and businesses in New Hampshire who wish to be more energy-efficient or rely more on renewable energy—both of which are important to achieving Peterborough’s goal of using 100% renewable energy for electricity, transportation, and heating and cooling.
In November, the NH Public Utilities Commission (PUC) moved to gut the state programs that, under the heading NHSaves, encourage energy efficiency. In doing so, they rejected a broadly supported plan for increased energy efficiency programs for 2021-23. This move inspired legal action and, ultimately, bipartisan passage of a bill (HB 549), that was signed by Governor Sununu in February and restored funding for NHSaves, albeit at a much lower level than had been planned.
But near the end of last month, the PUC interpreted one of HB 549’s provisions in a way that is likely to eliminate most residential energy efficiency programs beginning in 2024, though programs for low-income residents under the Home Energy Assistance (HEA) Program will probably persist. These most recent actions also largely spared such programs for businesses.
The upshot of all this activity is that if you are thinking about undertaking a weatherization project in your home or installing new appliances, heating and cooling equipment, a heat pump water heater, smart thermostats, or other devices, then you should try to do so before the end of next year. Sooner is better since the fund that covers rebates could be exhausted before the end of 2023. Check the NHSaves website at nhsaves.com for details about the different rebates available as well as about the HEA Program. Contacting Eversource is another way to get started.
Not only is there uncertainty about the future of NHSaves, but the federal energy tax credit is currently due to expire at the end of 2023. If you pay federal income tax and put a solar array, geothermal heat pump, or biomass-fueled heating into service this year at a primary or secondary residence you own, then you could receive a tax credit of 26% of the cost of the project. The credit drops to 22% for equipment put into service in 2023 and disappears in 2024 under current law.
The situation for small businesses is brighter, and there are a lot of resources that can be brought to bear on conserving energy and moving to renewable sources in order to have lower and more stable operational costs. NH Energy Week in April included terrific case studies of small businesses that did just that—businesses as varied as a daycare center, a sawmill, and a digital marketing firm. You can hear the business owners themselves talk about the process they went through by watching the webinar at bit.ly/smallbusinessenergywebinar, but I’ll provide some of the key points here.
The first step for each of these businesses was to arrange for a Level 2 energy audit with the assistance of a grant from the NH Community Development Finance Authority (nhcdfa.org). The CDFA’s energy audit fund originates with the US Department of Agriculture, which requires that the business be in a rural area to qualify for a grant, but that includes the entire Monadnock region. The detailed Level 2 audit helps identify the best opportunities for improvement and provides data that is needed for some of the grant and loan requests described below. Scott Maslansky, Director of Clean Energy Finance at CDFA, can help get you started on an energy audit.
The typical components of an energy conservation and cost stabilization project are weatherization (including additional insulation and energy-efficient doors and windows), replacement of inefficient lighting and other equipment, installation of efficient heating such as heat pumps, and installation of a solar array. Once you’ve decided what your project will include, the CDFA and your energy auditor can help locate contractors to do the work. The contractors, in turn, may be able to help with applying for the grants and loans to finance the project. The US Small Business Administration, through their Small Business Development Center (SBDC) in Concord, can also provide assistance and advice. Andrea O’Brien, Director of SBDC’s Business Sustainability Program, is a great contact for these types of projects.
The USDA’s Rural Energy for America Program (REAP) can provide a combination of grants and loans amounting to up to 75% of eligible project costs covering all of the types of work mentioned in the last paragraph. CDFA offers low-interest clean energy loans for businesses, nonprofits, and municipalities. NHSaves (nhsaves.com) has rebate programs for which businesses are eligible, and even the PUC has rebates and competitive grant programs for commercial and industrial utility customers. Don’t overlook tax advantages through tax credits and accelerated depreciation as well.
Businesses that have undertaken such efforts have enjoyed lower and more predictable energy costs for their operations, not to mention a more comfortable working environment. With grants and rebates lowering the up-front costs, the break-even point for these projects can be quite soon. The sawmill mentioned above reported that they were net positive after just one year despite having one of the larger projects described.
For both homeowners and businesses, the time to embark on your energy efficiency and renewable energy journey is now.