NH energy nominee says climate change is real, favors market solutions

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Nov. 30—CONCORD — The state's first nominee to lead a new Department of Energy said climate change is real and a reliance on private markets rather than permanent subsidies will lead to lower costs for ratepayers and cleaner technologies in the future.

Jared Chicoine of Gilford told the Executive Council on Tuesday that human activity was a "contributing factor" to climate change, but he sought a middle ground on the controversy.

"There is a lot of debate around this issue; people are divided. I would like to avoid moving to an extreme on either side; everybody wants clean air," Chicoine said at a public hearing.

Gov. Chris Sununu made Chicoine interim commissioner after the two-year state budget created this new office last July.

If the Executive Council confirms him as is expected, Chicoine will serve for four years, earning $114,166 a year.

Chicoine declined comment on the state Public Utilities Commission's recent decision to reject a three-year increase in spending on energy efficiency projects in favor of its own order that would lower that spending benchmark for the next two years.

His agency will weigh in on the matter in the future, said Chicoine.

All stakeholders have warned him the PUC decision could be detrimental to the future of energy efficiency projects, he added.

Since Sununu first became governor in 2016, Chicoine has worked for him, first as policy director and then running the Office of Strategic Initiatives (OSI), which administered federally-financed energy and planning programs.

Sununu proposed this new department that included OSI while giving it more staff to executes all state policies on energy.

"I want to see us excel in customer service," he said.

PUC separate and independent from new agency

The move broke off into its own orbit the PUC and the Site Evaluation Committee, which makes decisions on the locations of energy projects.

Chicoine said he has no discussions with those bodies on pending matters; the new agency does provide budget and bookkeeping support to them.

His office is updating the state's 10-year energy strategy last produced in 2018.

A proposed draft highlights how this state, unlike its New England neighbors, has spent less ratepayer money to support specific technologies such as solar.

Clean energy advocates maintain New Hampshire hasn't done enough to invest in renewables and, as a result, has less robust markets here than elsewhere in the region.

"If government is going to get involved and favor one technology over another it should be cost effective and time limited ... not incentives and subsidies that go on forever," Chicoine said.

Other innovations such as greater use of electric vehicles and wind power will occur as they become more accessible and affordable, he added.

The federal infrastructure bill President Joe Biden recently signed will give the state $17.3 million to add electric vehicle charging stations over the next four years.

A national settlement Volkswagen made with states created a $4.5 million pool of money for electric vehicle development.

"I believe consumers drive markets and as consumers want to see climate change addressed, they can do that through their choices in the marketplace," Chicoine said.

No one opposed the nomination at Tuesday's hearing; supporters included Attorney General John Formella and Kate Baker, who heads the Children's Scholarship Fund that manages the state's education freedom accounts for low and moderate-income families.

The council also took testimony on Sununu's pick of Pradip K. Chattopadhyay of Bow to a seat on the PUC replacing Kathryn Bailey of Bow, who resigned last month.

Chattopadhyay served as a staffer for the PUC and worked in the consumer advocate's office.

klandrigan@unionleader.com

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