RGGI program is good for small business

Last modified: Wednesday, January 04, 2012
Over the past few weeks, Grant Bosse, a staff member at the Josiah Bartlett Center for Public Policy, has used the commentary section of the Monitor to rail against the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative ('State endorses deficit spending,' Dec. 18; '12 issues to watch in 2012,' Jan. 1).

His observations miss the mark, as he neglects to discuss the benefits of the program as they affect small businesses and jobs in New Hampshire.

In his Jan. 1. column, Bosse's suggestion that the RGGI program includes 'green energy boondoggles' is both an unnecessary and an erroneous criticism of the many small and mid-sized businesses that are participating in this groundbreaking work.

The Retail Merchants Association of New Hampshire's Energy Efficiency Program, now in its third year, is underwritten by the RGGI program. Businesses that enroll and eventually qualify for rebates for energy efficiency investments are required to match those funds 5 to 1. The result is that the program has leveraged hundreds of thousands of dollars in private investment. Today, more than 85 small and mid-size companies across New Hampshire have enrolled.

For many small companies participating, the support they receive from the Energy Efficiency Program has enabled them to save thousands of dollars, which is then reinvested to create jobs and grow their businesses. This is a great example of New Hampshire working to pull itself out of a severe economic slump and rebuild the economy on Main Streets all over the state. The real story Bosse should be writing is about the many small and mid-sized businesses that have taken a problem - unaffordable energy costs - and turned it into a success.

While the RGGI program has ping-ponged politically over the past couple of years and is not particularly popular with the current New Hampshire Legislature, it is important to remember that this is a long-term program that is still maturing and advancing. New Hampshire consumers pay into the program through the regional wholesale market, so simply pulling New Hampshire out of the program will only leave us paying for a program and not receiving any of the benefits. In addition, by investing these dollars and the dollars the program leverages here in New Hampshire, we are keeping energy spending local. This is compounded by the fact that less energy purchased means more dollars staying in the local economy.

At its core, RGGI is a market-based carbon pollution control program that uses the market to establish the cost of pollution allowance on major emitters and then returns those dollars to ratepayers in the form of energy efficiency programs. This program stands in strong contrast to other top-down environmental regulations. The competitive bidding for the New Hampshire program established a method to invest rate payer dollars with actual residents and businesses. In the first round of the RGGI Program, project grants were made to some individual companies like Stonyfield Farm, and the Gorham Mills. Since then, the program has matured and dollars are now allocated in accordance with several customer sector programs, chosen through a competitive bid, and are not granted directly by the Public Utilities Commission to individuals or companies.

Bosse's commentary, at least so far, has not offered any practical alternatives. However, in the real world of New Hampshire's small and mid-size businesses, trying to control the cost of energy is a major challenge.

The goal of our Energy Efficiency Program is to develop real-world experience in reducing overhead expenses by using an innovative long-term program that lowers pollution levels and assists businesses in controlling energy costs.

Bosse and the Josiah Bartlett Center can surely do better than just criticizing the many small and mid-sized businesses that have voluntarily enrolled in our Energy Efficiency Program to improve the business and job climate in New Hampshire. The test should be to suggest a program that controls carbon pollution, that is market-based, that supports energy efficiency investments in a way that leverages private investment, and that does so without the control of big government or monopoly utilities.

While it is fair for Bosse to have and express a negative opinion about the RGGI program, it would be far more helpful for him and his think tank to offer some actual alternatives.

When they do, the Retail Merchants Association of New Hampshire will be happy to work with them to develop and refine better public policy solutions.

(Nancy C. Kyle is president and CEO of the Retail Merchants Association of New Hampshire.)