Q and A with: PUC energy director Jack Ruderman

Jack Ruderman heads the Public Utilities Commission’s Sustainable Energy Division, which gives out millions of dollars each year for energy programs.Q. Outline the type of funds you oversee.A. The renewable energy fund is an offshoot of the state’s renewable portfolio standard law, which requires our electricity providers to purchase certain percentages of renewable energy. Last July, we received $4.8 million, and this past July, we received $1.3 million. People were guesstimating $10 million to $12 million each year – it’s a little more modest than we had hoped.The first program is for homeowners who want to use solar electrical panels or wind turbines. We have received over 400 applications for rebates requesting a total of $2.3 million.The second program, also residential, is for solar water heating – $500,000 in federal stimulus funds, which are matching with $500,000.A third program is for home wood pellet furnaces – whole house systems, not the wood pellet stove that many of us have in our family rooms. They have to be capable of bulk fuel delivery. We are hoping to spark a market for trucks outfitted for bulk.We are now creating our first commercial and industrial rebate program for solar electric or for solar water heating, hot water and potentially for space heating.Q. The bulk of the money is being spent on residential rebates, yet businesses pay more than half of the amount received. Shouldn’t more of this money go back to businesses?A. We agree. The funds should be spent in proportion to the retail sales, and residential is about 41 percent and commercial and industrial 59 percent.However, we were required to create the residential program first. We started off very lopsided, but we are very much committed to the commercial and industrial sector.Q. How much is available for businesses right now?A. The commission set aside $1 million for the commercial and industrial rebate program. The staff is now proposing $1.5 or $1.75 million, and that would take us to June 2011, when we get our next deposit of funds, which, we hope, will be more substantial.Q. Why are there less funds than you expected?A. The law is working as intended. It is creating a healthy market for renewable energy facilities, and therefore there are plenty of renewable energy credits available to the electricity providers. They don’t pay much in. That’s a good thing, unless you happen to be the fund manager.Q. It’s similar with the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative. The auction rate for carbon allowances started out at $3.07, and in June 2010, it was down to $1.88. Explain what those figures mean.A. RGGI is a regional cap and trade program to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by requiring power plants to obtain carbon allowances. It is a market-based system, and auctions are quarterly. New Hampshire’s share so far is $24.3 million. The amount of money in auctions varied from $4.2 million to $2.77 million. Prices have dropped, and fewer allowances are selling. But it is a dynamic market that could change any time. nhbrQ. What’s available for business under that program?A. The Business Finance Authority last year loaned out $1.96 million. One $750,000 loan was for Foss Manufacturing in Hampton. They’ve been able to eliminate diesel generators and replacing over 1,700 lighting fixtures. The second loan of $500,000 went out to Vitex Corp., an aluminum extrusion company in Franklin.They were able to replace a furnace that was only 28 percent efficient with one that’s 65 percent efficient. The third loan was $710,000 to Androscoggin Valley Regional Refuse Disposal District working with Fraser Paper Company to bring gas from the Mt. Carberry landfill in place of No. 6 heating oil to run their machinery.In our first round, we gave a direct grant to Fraser paper of $470,000 to invest that money in recovering lost heat. They were able to save $800,000 each year on energy costs. Dramatic, immediate results.Q. Do you feel sometimes that this is just a drop in the bucket?A. We also provided $7.5 million to the state’s electric utilities to expand energy-efficiency programs to ratepayers, including businesses. But yes. You are looking at billions that need to be made available.Bob Sanders can be reached at bsanders@nhbr.com.