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Bill to divert RGGI funds to ratepayers draws concern from environmentalists

  • Rob Werner File photo



Monitor staff
Tuesday, January 02, 2018

A House bill that would re-divert profits from New Hampshire’s Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) back to ratepayers is drawing opposition from environmentalists, who say it would undercut investment in clean energy programs in the state.

House Bill 592 would change the way money raised through the initiative – known as RGGI – is allocated.

Under RGGI, New Hampshire and nine other states take part in a market-based program to reduce greenhouse gas emissions – the emissions are capped, but companies can purchase allowances at state-run auctions. The profits from those auctions can be spent as states see fit; in New Hampshire, 15 to 20 percent of the money is used to fund energy-efficient projects across the state, as determined by the Public Utilities Commission.

House Bill 592 would change that formula, directing that all money raised at auction go back directly to ratepayers. The bill would strike out language allowing the money to be invested in local and municipal clean energy initiatives, including use in schools or public facilities.

Rob Werner, Concord city councilor and state director of the League of Conservation Voters, said that the lack of investment will hurt the state down the line.

Beyond its participation in RGGI, New Hampshire uses the same electric grid as its members, Werner said. Investing in efficiency helps lower long-term costs for ratepayers and reduces the state’s burden on the grid, Werner argued. Not doing so, he added, would shift the costs of the grid from a state like Massachusetts, which has invested heavily in clean energy, to New Hampshire, he argued.

“It’s something that we think is really shortsighted,” Werner said Tuesday. “If we don’t do anything to keep pace with our neighbors, then the cost will go up – it’ll be shifted to us.”

Werner and the League of Conservation Voters plan to hold a “Day of Action” Wednesday to oppose the bill, including a press conference and legislative luncheon.

But Rep. Michael Harrington, R-Strafford, who proposed the bill, said the concerns are being blown out of proportion. To start, he said, the 15 to 20 percent toward clean energy projects is not a whole lot to begin with, and the investments made do not make a significant dent in state energy prices.

Some money may be used to transition schools to cleaner energy sources, like wood pellet heating over oil heating, but cleaner energy does not necessarily mean lower prices for ratepayers, Harrington said.

“You can make a technical case on (a loss of investment raising prices), but when you start counting the dollars, it’s tiny,” Harrington said.

For Werner, that argument is misleading: The amount is small because New Hampshire has chosen to invest relatively little of its RGGI profits back into clean energy initiatives, he said. Reversing that trend, Werner said, is necessary. A separate bill championed by the league, House Bill 559, would take the program in the opposite direction, expanding the scope of potential investment of RGGI profits to low-income weatherization projects.

But to Harrington, the investments exceed RGGI’s original goal: to reduce carbon emissions in power plants. Harrington, a former public utilities commissioner who helped negotiate for New Hampshire when the program got off the ground in 2005, said his bill would keep that goal intact.

“The intent of RGGI was never to establish a slush fund that’s assigned to the PUC to give to the projects that they think are a good idea,” he said. “The intent was to reduce carbon dioxide by penalizing plants that produce too much CO2.”

So far, HB 592 is hardly bipartisan; it narrowly passed an 11-10 House Energy committee vote. It is expected to be debated and voted on by the House on Wednesday.

(Ethan DeWitt can be reached at edewitt@cmonitor.com, or on Twitter at @edewittNH.)