Blog : To Have and Have Not: Renewable Energy Policies Face Opposition in the New Hampshire House and Senate

By Ken | Feb 27, 2015 | in

By Craig Robert Brown

CONCORD - A series of amended bills that would repeal the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) and the Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS), statute RSA 362-F, are going before the New Hampshire House and Senate.

On February 5, the Republican led committee voted to amend HB-208 presented by State Rep. Richard Barry, R-Merrimack, who originally brought the same concept to the table in 2011 and again in 2012. The amendment would keep New Hampshire in RGGI, but would rebate all RGGI auction proceeds to ratepayers instead of using part of the rebates, as it currently does, to invest in low-income and municipal energy efficiency projects.

Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey, one of the original 10 northeast states participating in RGGI, pulled his state from the pact in 2011.

The first vote before the House was held on February 18, which resulted in a decision to stay in RGGI with a 201-154 vote to stop investing any of the funding in energy efficiency. The bill will still go before the Senate, where it could pass, before being presented to the governor.

"If it does [pass] there's going to be a real ramp down of all of these good programs, and New Hampshire is going face another interruption in its market development," said Kate Epsen, the Executive Director of the New Hampshire Sustainability Energy Association. "A lot of businesses will be harmed and a lot of jobs will be lost."

Governor Hassan has indicated she will likely veto the RGGI bill should it pass through the state Senate. Hassan has not indicated any executive action on the RPS bills, but has proposed a budget that does not include using dedicated funds, which include the Renewable Energy Fund, toward the state's operating budget.

RGGI, the program that generates Greenhouse Gas Emission Reduction Fund, was voted in in 2008 as part of a ten-state initiative to reduce greenhouse gas emissions using a cap-and-trade program. Doing so created a market for emission allowances.

In New Hampshire, 10 percent of RGGI's funds aid low-income residential customers in lowering their energy use with the remaining funds distributed in competitive grants. In 2010, the Greenhouse Gas Emissions Reduction Fund generated $24.3 million in revenue. It's a considerable amount coming into the state and has helped create jobs in a booming energy-efficient job market. The state receives between $15 to $18 million each year through the sale of carbon credits to energy generators, while 80 percent goes to ratepayers and the remaining amount helps pay for energy efficiency projects.

The funds have been welcome news to small businesses that have taken advantage of RGGI and the RPS's Renewable Energy Credits and Renewable Energy Fund. But cutting these programs would be detrimental to small business owners who have expanded their work and served customers interested in efficiency or renewable energy.

"That's the kind of stability businesses are screaming for," says Jack Bingham, owner of Seacoast Energy, an alternative energy supplier specializing in solar installations. "They want stable tax policy, they want stable energy policy, they want all these things, well this is an opportunity for a business to get a hold of a piece of that and actually control it."

Bingham owns what he calls “moderately sized” 36 and 45-kilowatt solar systems that generate Renewable Energy Credits (RECs), essentially a proof-of-purchase that a renewable energy source has generated 1 MWh or electricity. These credits can be bought, sold and traded for as a benefit to the environment. RECs generated by solar energy are often referred to as Solar Renewable Energy Certificates.

Bingham also owns a 180kw system in another state where he says it’s easier to do business because utilities pay more for the energy produced by his solar arrays. "I have a project over in Pawlet, Vermont that I own that pays me 21 cents a kWh," said Bingham. "There were no state incentives, but no incentives doesn't matter because the rate that the utility pays for the power is justified." Bingham did receive a 30 percent federal tax credit and a Vermont state tax credit for the project.

The debates around RGGI and RPS are political ones, but energy is not, and should not be, a partisan issue, according to Epsen.

"Legislators want to help New Hampshire businesses and families to lower their high electricity rates. Rebating the revenues from RGGI and the RPS will not offer material relief," said Epsen. "Unfortunately, [passing the bill] would hamper a substantial and growing economic system here in New Hampshire by interrupting the cost and energy saving investments we're making in reducing waste and generating energy from native resources."

Bingham agrees that cutting the programs would be harmful environmentally. It's one of the reasons he got into the business over seven years ago, and why Seacoast Energy is a Business Partner with the Green Alliance, a union of local businesses and consumer members advancing sustainable choices. But he also feels removing RGGI and RPS would be bad business, especially when part of that business includes job creation.

According to the Washington Post, there are now over 173,000 jobs in the solar industry in the United States. And a report by the Solar Foundation, cited in the same article, provides a state-by-state analysis of solar jobs. For its size, New Hampshire reported 600 solar jobs in 2013, a figure that changes as the demand for solar technology increases. Solar energy advocates and installers, like Bingham, would be hit particularly hard should RPS be repealed, weakened, or stripped of its Renewable Energy Fund incentive programs.

"If you're a business owner there is no way, with any foresight, you can control your cost of energy with traditional fuels. And the truth of the matter is [renewable] alternatives and conservation are the only two guaranteed ways to manage your energy costs," said Bingham. "So we can disagree about global warming all we want, but in the end, the business model is obvious. If energy stability is the goal, renewables are the answer."

RPS provides a varied range of fuel options through local, renewable energy like solar. Doing so decreases dependence on fossil fuels, lowers and stabilizes energy costs and adds revenue in the state. There are a total of four bills going set to amend or repeal RPS. One would remove it entirely while another two would amend the bill, likely rendering it useless, according to Epsen, while the fourth bill wouldn't change the RPS's structure, but would change its funding.

"That's the fund that pays for all those renewable energy projects," said Epsen. "[The bill] would basically take all the Renewable Energy Fund and either send it back as rebates on bills, or divert it into low-income weatherization programs. No one is against expanding low-income weatherization...but to do it with the Renewable Energy Fund, while stripping that same funding provided through RGGI, is not the right move for New Hampshire."

If the bills don't pass, or are vetoed, it wouldn't be the perfect outcome for Bingham, as he believes New Hampshire still has a way to go to compete with other participating state's incentives, but it's a continued step forward.

"If the conditions stay just as they are, I can't speak for anybody else, but I'm perfectly happy with that," said Bingham. "Could things be better? Sure. The [RPS's] alternative compliance payments could be higher. But economic reality is economic reality."