House panel votes to eliminate RGGI energy-efficiency funds

Committee also supports lessening renewable energy standard

The NH House Science Technology and Energy Committee narrowly voted Tuesday to gut energy-efficiency funding through the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative and roll back the state’s renewable energy standard, in a move that one Republic denounced as partisan and a Democrat called “nuts.”

But most Republicans backed the legislation, which they argued would decrease “subsidies” to programs designed to reduce fossil fuel usage.

“It’s easy to spend other people’s money,” said Rep. Michael Vose, R-Epping, who introduced a last-minute amendment to gut RGGI funding. “But nobody knows how to spend money better than the person that manages it, and this will benefit ratepayers.”

Vose’s measure, House Bill 592, originally would have repealed New Hampshire’s participation in RGGI – an eight-state program that requires power producers to pay for every ton of carbon emitted. The proceeds go back to the states, with the intention, but not the requirement, that they be spent on energy-efficiency programs.

That’s what New Hampshire did when it first joined RGGI in 2009, but since 2012, all but the first dollar spent on RGGI has been rebated to the customer.

Vose’s amended bill rebates all of the money to ratepayers, meaning no money would go toward energy-efficiency programs.

“Right now we get four out of five dollars back,” said Vose. “All this would do would make it five out five, minus administrative costs.”

Those voting against the amendment argued energy efficiency is environmentally and economically beneficial and the cheapest way to lower peak demand and save on transmission and generation costs that benefit all customer more than the extra rebate.

“This eliminates any reason to participate,” said Bob Backus, D-Manchester. “You would be paying the cost of RGGI without the benefits. Its a very foolish idea.”

“If this is a new Republican way, I don’t know what I’m going to do,” said Herbert Richardson, R-Lancaster, the committee’s vice chair. “I can’t believe people are coming in here to upset the apple cart. It’s all political. I’m ashamed of my party.”

And Rep. John Mann, D-Alstead said that it would drive away young people who care about their children’s future other states like Vermont. “This is crazy. This is nuts,” he said.

The committee voted, 11-10, on the amendment and the bill, recommending it to the full house when it meets in January.

System benefits charge

By the same 11-10 vote, the committee defeated HB 559, which would have directed a larger portion of energy-efficiency funds toward low-income homeowners and programs that benefit towns and municipalities.

Vose proposed an amendment to HB 317 that would cut a larger source of energy-efficiency funding – an increase in the system benefits charge to meet the Public Utilities Commission’s Energy Efficiency Resource Standard.

Vose’s amendment would allow businesses to opt out of paying the energy-efficiency portion of the SBC while forgoing the benefits. But utilities and regulators opposed the bill at a public hearing, arguing that it would let companies who take advantage of the program, or and who might in the future, collect the benefits without paying for them.

Vose asked that a vote on his amendment be delayed to address these concerns.

The committee also voted by 11-10 to recommend HB 114, which would roll back the requirement that state utilities include 15 percent new renewable energy source, like wind and solar, by 2025.

“They are a tax and they cost money and we should terminate the program,” said Herbert Vadney, R-Meredith.

Supporters of the existing standard argued that the requirement helps the fast-growing clean tech industry and reduces reliance on fossil fuels. They asked for a delay in any action until a study on the program is completed next year.

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