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My Turn: Raid on renewable funds amounts to hidden tax

Marc Brown’s My Turn (“Lawmakers raid renewable energy fund,” Monitor, June 24) sends mixed messages that deserve both clarification and comment.

Brown is correct: New Hampshire electric ratepayers should be outraged at the recent budget deal that includes a $16 million theft of funds dedicated to advancing clean, renewable energy technologies.

Gov. Maggie Hassan’s endorsement of this act calls into question the depth of her commitment to innovation (a buzzword from her campaign) in New Hampshire’s energy economy. Hassan and other legislative leaders who backed the raid were in office in 2007 and voted in favor of the Renewable Portfolio Standard, which dedicated these funds in the first place.

Regrettably, as Brown points out, it represents a continuing lack of leadership from a succession of governors who blithely raid dedicated funds to fill budget holes. This is not leadership and Gov. Hassan can do better.

Brown then strays from his condemnation of this raid by calling into question how the state has chosen to use dedicated renewable energy funds in the past.

According to independent studies and the New Hampshire Public Utilities Commission, completed projects supported by one of the two funds, the Greenhouse Gas Emissions Reduction Fund, have resulted in annual reductions of fossil fuel energy use equivalent to the energy used by 2,000 households in one year.

Additionally, the greenhouse fund creates annual energy savings for New Hampshire residents and businesses of over $6.7 million and reduces annual carbon dioxide emissions by 22,900 metric tons.

Cumulative energy savings due to projects completed as of June 2012 are estimated to be equivalent to the annual energy use of 34,000 New Hampshire households.

Carbon dioxide emissions reductions are estimated to be 366,500 metric tons through 2030. As of June 2012, cumulative energy savings due to projects that received greenhouse funds ($21.8 million) are expected to be $107.8 million through 2030 based on current energy prices. For every dollar spent as of June 2012, the expected return is $4.95 in energy savings.

Sounds like a pretty good investment to me.

Brown also either ignored or is unaware of the fact that the Legislature capped the amount of ratepayer funds that go into the greenhouse fund at $1 per ton last year. All other proceeds are rebated to ratepayers. So his assertion that lawmakers increased the fund so they can raid more money doesn’t hold water.

Let’s get back to the real issue: raiding funds that are dedicated by law to specific purposes is bad public policy. Ironically, the very same budget deal that proposes the $16 million raid of the Renewable Energy Fund also fully restores funding dedicated to the Land and Community Heritage Investment Program, after years of legislative raids backed by our prior governor.

As the Monitor put it simply in an April 2 editorial, a raid on renewable energy funds amounts to another hidden tax on electric customers by lawmakers intent on avoiding accountability for tax increases.

As Concord attorney and former mayor Martin Gross pointed out in a subsequent letter, raiding funds dedicated by statute raises serious constitutional questions. Perhaps, as he opined, the time has come when some suitable person or group should remind Gov. Hassan and the Legislature of it, by challenging the almost biennial raid of dedicated funds through appropriate litigation.

(Charlie Niebling, a forester and Boscawen resident, is a partner with Innovative Natural Resource Solutions LLC in Antrim.)

Great -- BUT: Many thanks to Charlie Niebling for pointing out the falsehoods in the original piece, BUT WHERE IS MARTY GROSS'S LETTER? I could be wrong, but it appears to have never been made available online!?! (Marty being not just Concord's former mayor, by the way, but PSCo's lead lobbyist as well.)

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