Industry assails raid on N.H.’s Renewable Energy Fund

Businesses say removing money will slow their growth

This was the year that Granite State Solar decided “to go big,” said Erik Shifflett, a partner in the Boscawen-based company. Granite Solar recently hired a dozen people both to meet the demand of home systems and because of New Hampshire’s Renewable Energy Fund, which has an inviting $52 million over the next two years.

But that fund was also inviting to members of the New Hampshire House, who on April 1 voted to raid it to fill a budget gap.

At the time, Kate Epsen, executive director of the New Hampshire Sustainable Energy Association and New Hampshire Clean Tech Council, denounced the raid as a short-sighted fix that could devastate a budding Granite State industry.

On Tuesday, representatives of the industry backed her up, both at a press conference and to lobby senators in an attempt to counter the House’s position.

The fund doesn’t come from taxpayers but utilities (and, indirectly, ratepayers) that have to pay compliance payments if they can’t meet the state’s Renewable Portfolio Standards, which require that they obtain 25 percent of their energy from renewable sources by 2025.

Shifflett was among them. At the beginning of the year, he said, his business consisted of himself and a partner, but the demand for solar quickly caused them to ramp up.

One of the reasons behind the increased demand, he said, was the Renewable Energy Fund, which covers up to 50 percent, or $3,750, of a residential system installation. 

Another incentive has been a 30 percent federal tax rebate, which might go away in July. The rebate, along with the decreased costs and increased efficiency of solar, are the key reasons that the payback period on a residential system is about five to seven years, compared to twice that amount at the start of the decade.

Shifflett figured that for every $1 in rebates, his company has done $10.41 in work.

“The fund was supposed to make solar more attractive, and it succeeded beautifully,” he told NHBR.

It also made the industry more attractive. With a penetration rate of 0.2 percent, “we had no where to go but up,” Shifflett said.

But now he is looking down. The disappearance of the fund would “maybe not put us out of business, but it would slow growth.”

Recovering from recession

Also at the press conference was Martin Orio, owner of Water Energy Distributors Inc. of Hampstead, also known as NortheastGeo, which has been designing geothermal heat pump systems since 1978.

The company took a hit during the recession, but “we’ve been slowly hiring most of our staff back,” he said, adding that raiding the Renewable Energy Fund “will slow us down and stop that development.”

Meanwhile, Epsen recently released a report on the “clean tech industry,” which also includes energy efficiency, and estimates that it employs some 15,000 to 20,000 people in New Hampshire and is one of the fastest-growing, highest-wage industries in the state.

She has been visiting senators one by one to make them more aware of the effects of the raid on the industry. So far, the lobbying effort has gone well, she said.

Senate leadership has publicly said it will try to balance the budget without raiding such dedicated funds. Of course, House leadership also stated similar intentions at the beginning of the budget process and then ended up raiding the fund anyway.

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