By Frank Andorka, Senior Correspondent
Liberty Utilities, New Hampshire’s largest utility currently has a docket before the New Hampshire Public Utilities Commission that sounds like a good idea.
At issue is the state’s largest pilot program in history that would allow New Hampshire solar users to install batteries at no cost to them. Sounds good, right?
And although the intent of the program – to see how batteries will affect grid resiliency and performance – is pretty benign, solar advocates in the state have concerns about the size of the program and what it could mean for the long-term future of battery storage in the Granite State.
After all, the proposal as it is currently written gives only customers with utility-owned batteries access to time-of-use rates or monthly peak reduction payments, meaning the goal of the pilot program isn’t really to test how batteries operate on the grid. It’s to give the utility an unnecessary monopoly on battery storage, which should be granted only when a clear market failure demands it.
Instead of attempting to grab new monopoly powers where they don’t clearly exist, advocates suggest that Liberty Utilities should scale back its own pilot program and let other companies – in some cases local companies employing New Hampshire citizens – compete on a “Bring Your Own Battery” system. In other words, set rates based on performance and let the market – not a state-sponsored monopoly – decide who should handle the solar + storage systems in the state.
As it is, battery storage is something new for monopoly utilities in most cases (and most certainly in Liberty Utilities’ case), whereas multiple companies in the private sector are already deploying solar + storage in many states, giving them insights into the particular challenges and opportunities such systems provide. Why should New Hampshire residents become the guinea pigs for a large-scale pilot program that would effectively shut out the competition?
No one is suggesting Liberty Utilities shouldn’t set up a pilot program or that that the NHPUC shouldn’t grant them one. But make it a reasonably sized one that forces utilities to compete in the market – which would allow all ratepayers, solar consumers and non-solar consumers alike, to win.