Sen. Jeanne Shaheen visited three key North Country locations last Friday, including the Franconia Ridge Loop Trail, Bethlehem's municipal solar project, and downtown Berlin. Her Bethlehem visit focused on energy efficiency and inflation reduction.
On Aug 7, the Senate passed the Democrat-led Inflation Reduction Act, 51 to 50. This broad-sweeping legislation addresses multiple climate, healthcare and tax issues.
Considered by many to be once-in-a-generation legislation, thebill extends ACA (Affordable Care Act) premium tax credits, lowers prescription drug costs, tackles steep insulin costs and prioritizes energy-efficient solutions to climate changes.
While in Bethlehem, Shaheen discussed the town's solar array success with Energy Commission Chair David Van Houten and Bethlehem Select Board Chair Bruce Caplain. She also gained insight into the unique infrastructure and cost challenges many North Country municipalities face when considering clean energy options.
Clean Energy NH Executive Director Sam Evans-Brown and Circuit Writer Melissa Elander also attended the meeting. Elander said the USDA (US Department of Agriculture) had become an "unexpected and amazing partner" in securing community facilities grants, which partially funded the town's solar arrays.
"It takes a lot in New Hampshire to go out and find the programs that will fit your project and put them together and then write the grant. Once I started meeting with people face to face, there was an enormous amount of interest in doing projects. So we started working on solar in many communities but also working on the efficiency piece at the same time.
I'm definitely seeing a need for more funding for community solar projects in the North Country," said Elander.
Elander said only one small community solar grant existed, which was restrictive regarding the number of low and moderate-income households. She added that demand charges were a "sneaky, but really brutal thing" on everyone's electric bills, and community solar projects would be an excellent complement to small and medium battery storage systems to help North Country residents end their reliance on diesel backup generators during extended power outages.
Yet another challenge, said Elander and Evans-Brown was the disconnect between schools with solar arrays and the performance contractors managing those systems.
"My understanding is that the schools, especially up here, are probably the smallest project size that a lot of performance contracts will interact with - it's a marginal business for a lot of them," said Evans-Brown.
Shaheen said the Inflation Reduction Act included grant and loan funding to address some of the energy efficiency work in development.
"This legislation will make a real difference for Granite Staters, from making health insurance more affordable through ACA tax credits – which I've long fought for – to tackling surging prescription drug costs that add pressure on families' wallets. This legislation also represents the most substantial action to combat the climate crisis in US history by enacting long overdue policies to protect our communities and the environment through sustainable energy solutions," said Shaheen. "These measures are all paid for without raising a dime from working families, instead holding accountable wealthy corporations who've long evaded paying their fair share.