Carbon standards will fight pollution, add jobs

There are many benefits to be realized from federal guidelines for power plants

When we burn fossil fuels, carbon pollution is released into Earth’s closed atmosphere. As the concentration of heat-trapping gas builds up over decades, this insidious pollution accelerates climate change, triggers asthma attacks and respiratory disease and measurably worsens air quality.

Although the United States emits the highest per capita carbon pollution in the world (40 percent coming from power plants), we are lulled into complacency because these harmful gases are tasteless, odorless and colorless. It’s hard for any society to combat an invisible enemy.

That’s why the Environmental Protection Agency finally released new draft carbon standards for power plants this summer. The new standards immediately came under attack from fossil fuel industry lobbyists, conservative politicians and other “deniers” who, despite overwhelming scientific data proving that the carbon pollution from 7 billion people is warming the atmosphere at an unsustainable rate, are saying we don’t have a problem.

The good news in northern New England is that we have been wrestling with this massive problem for more than a decade, with modest but noteworthy results achieved thus far.

New Hampshire is part of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, or RGGI. Collectively, accordingly to a recent report from Environment Northeast, the RGGI states have avoided the release of approximately 8 million short tons of carbon over the lifetime of the projects, saved $250 million in energy bills to date and invested in enough projects to save approximately 8.5 million megawatt hours of electricity over the lifetime of those projects.

Even so, the Granite State has the second-highest per capita greenhouse gas emissions in New England, due to our over-reliance on fossil fuels for transportation, heat and power.

The new EPA carbon pollution standards will help solve major problem polluters like the Merrimack Station coal-fired power plant in Bow, the worst-polluting power plant in all of New England.

The good news for New Hampshire is that we have abundant renewable resources in the form of wind, biomass and solar energy; in fact, New Hampshire gets 33 percent more sunshine per year than Germany, the world leader in solar adoption since they instituted their national renewable energy policy in the late 1990s. It's worth noting that Germany has one of the strongest economies on the planet.

During our 10 years in business, ReVision Energy has installed more than 4,000 solar hot water and solar electric systems throughout Maine, Massachusetts and New Hampshire. Our Maine operations have slowed because all Maine solar incentives have been eliminated by the current state administration despite being part of RGGI.

But our New Hampshire and Massachusetts operations are growing rapidly, and that's because they have done a better job of maintaining a predictable state solar incentive program.

For example, an average home solar project involves 20 solar electric panels installed on the roof at a gross cost of $16,500 before you factor in the 30% federal tax credit ($4,950).

In New Hampshire, for example, homeowners are eligible for an additional cash rebate ($3,750), for a net investment of $7,800. This project delivers an average 12 percent annual return on investment to the homeowner and significantly increases the resale value of the home, according to study data published by Forbes magazine and The Wall Street Journal.

In Maine, this same solar project would only qualify for the 30 percent federal tax credit, costing about $11,550 and reducing the annual return on investment to 8 percent, but not devoid of benefits. It will still increase the home resale value and still lower the cost of ownership/utility bills for the homeowner.

Even with RGGI, solar policy is regionally erratic and therefore slowing the shift away from fossil fuels. I encourage the EPA to create a nationwide carbon standard that will incentivize states to share and adopt best practices, encourage further adoption of solar and reduce the permitting friction and red tape that makes it so hard for a solar company to get a project installed on a roof.

There are many benefits to be realized from a federal carbon standard for power plants beyond the growth of businesses like ReVision Energy. The public health and environmental benefits of solar energy are scientifically indisputable. Plus, solar energy creates local jobs in our communities because we are building the projects right here in New Hampshire.

At ReVision, in just three years we have grown from two employees to a total of 18 in our Exeter facility, and we are continuing to hire.

By investing in local renewable energy, New Hampshire is building a powerful clean energy economy that will position our state to be economically and environmentally sustainable as we make the inevitable long-term transition away from finite, polluting fossil fuels.

Phil Coupe is a co-founder and managing partner of ReVision Energy, Exeter.

Categories: Opinion