State senators dip into renewable energy fund to pay for homeland security

Last modified: 5/22/2015 12:37:13 AM
A week after voting to fully restore the state’s renewable energy fund, Senate budget writers decided yesterday to use some of the fund’s money to bankroll homeland security and emergency management.

The Senate Finance Committee voted yesterday to divert $1.5 million annually from the fund beginning in 2017 to help make up for a loss in the state’s homeland security budget.

“This change is a logical step in maintaining the necessary funding level for homeland security protections covering the state’s utilities, should they be impacted by a manmade or natural disaster,” said Senate President Chuck Morse, a Salem Republican and member of the Senate Finance Committee, in a statement.

The decision prompted criticism from Senate Democrats and advocates, who said it equates to a dedicated fund raid.

“The industry does not support any raid at any level,” said Kate Epsen, executive director of the New Hampshire Sustainable Energy Association, who added that a raid of the fund could prompt legal action. “We’re still considering all of our options,” she said.

Dedicated fund raids have become a contentious topic this session.

Republican senators have spoken out against the raids and pledged to avoid them.

The Republican-controlled House approved using more than $50 million from the renewable energy fund to help pay for Department of Transportation costs. Officials said that would wipe out the fund’s entire balance over the next two-years, which would effectively halt all investments.

Senate budget writers voted to restore that money last week.

“This is the wrong way to build a budget,” Morse said last week. “We made it clear the Senate was not going to hit dedicated funds.”

Under the Senate Finance proposal approved yesterday, the two-year budget would take $2.2 million from the renewable energy fund and use it for homeland security.

In the state’s next budget, set to take effect July 1, homeland security is set to lose a steady funding source as the Vermont Yankee Power nuclear station decommissions.

Morse said tapping the renewable energy fund to fund homeland security would help the state avoid a new tax.

“I am supporting taking money the state already has and living within our means,” he said during a hearing yesterday, adding that the money is going to a cause compatible with the fund.

The Senate Finance Committee is finalizing its budget plan, which will be debated by the full body in early June.

The renewable energy fund gives financial incentives to residents and businesses who install solar panels, among other renewable technologies. Utilities and energy suppliers pay into the fund if they don’t buy a required number of renewable energy credits.

In 2014, it generated roughly $17.6 million.

In 2013, lawmakers pulled $16.1 million from the fund to help balance the budget.

(Allie Morris can be reached at 369-3307 or or on Twitter @amorrisNH.)


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