RGGI repeal vote snags PSNH

The New Hampshire House voted Wednesday to repeal New Hampshire’s involvement in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative by a veto-proof vote of 246-104, sticking it to Public Service of New Hampshire in the process.The House tacked on an amendment that would leave PSNH holding the allowances it bought through RGGI for future compliance, leaving the utility to see what it could get for them in the carbon market — which isn’t doing very well right now. In a previous version of the bill, PSNH would be able to bill ratepayers through cost recovery — the same mechanism used to pay for the Seabrook nuclear power plant”You think the company is going to eat those costs?” asked Rep. Naida Kaen, D-Lee, during the debate.”Did they like the idea? Not necessarily,” said James Garrity, R-Atkinson, who chairs the House Science, Technology and Energy Committee. “But I don’t work for PSNH.”Garrity went on to say that as a private company that chooses to be regulated by the state, PSNH should know that the rules of the game sometimes change.PSNH could not be reached for comment by deadline.For the last three years, PSNH, like other utilities in the 10-state RGGI, have been purchasing carbon credits at regional quarterly auctions so they have enough “allowances” to emit carbon into the air. The money collected at the auctions is pooled, allotted among the participating states, and then distributed to various energy saving projects, some run by the utilities, some not.Since PSNH is the only utility in the state that emits carbon, it is the only one that needs the credits. (Two natural gas plants also must buy the allowances.)The idea behind the nation’s first carbon cap-and-trade system was that utilities like PSNH would have more of an incentive to reduce carbon emissions, and that money would be available to reduce demand, thereby helping reduce the region’s contribution to global warming and use of fossil fuels.Thus far, New Hampshire has received some $28 million for such projects. All seemed to be going fine and dandy until several states — including New Hampshire — raided RGGI funds to help balance their state budgets.Republicans, who took control of the State House in November, seized on that in their vote to repeal the bill, which takes effect at the end of the year.”It was never about climate change, it was all about the money,” said Garrity.Garrity maintained that RGGI was based on “shaky climate science” in the first place, a view echoed by Deputy Majority Leader Shawn Jasper, who urged all those who believed that “neither man nor cow is responsible for global warming” to vote for repeal.Garrity’s main argument, however, was not about the environment, but about market versus mandates.”It is taking some money from all of us to redistribute that wealth to a few of us,” he said.RGGI supporters countered that most scientists don’t dispute that global warming is a man-made certainty. Even if it isn’t, argued Rep. Beatriz Pastor, D-Lyme, there was never any certainty that the former Soviet Union would launch a nuclear attack on the United States, “but any president worth his salt would take preventive action.”RGGI defenders also blasted “robo calls” that suggested that repealing RGGI would lower electricity rates.They countered that the cost of electricity is set regionally, so that ratepayers would be paying $5 million a year toward RGGI, whether New Hampshire repeals it or not. All repeal would mean is the loss of about $13 million in conservation funds, said RGGI backers.That was the main argument of Gov. John Lynch in testifying for the bill, and it was echoed by Senate President Peter Bragdon, R-Milford, in an interview with NHBR to be published Friday.”New Hampshire businesses are going to be paying into RGGI no matter what, and if we don’t have our own system set up, all that money is going to go out of state,” Bragdon told NHBR. “And it helps overall to diversify our energy source, I think, and that is to the long term good.”However, before it even reaches the Senate, the bill has to go through the House Finance Committee and be approved by the full House once more. — BOB SANDERS/NEW HAMPSHIRE BUSINESS REVIEW

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