What’s to Become of NH’s Only Renewable Energy Fund?
By Kate Epsen
New Hampshire’s only dedicated fund for renewable energy is, once again, in danger. Millions of dollars ($9.4 million, to be precise) are at risk of being taken from the NH Renewable Energy Fund (REF) and put into the state’s General Fund when the Governor and Legislature begin crafting their budget in 2015. The REF is not intended to fund the state’s operating budget. A bipartisan legislature created this fund in 2008 as part of our Renewable Portfolio Standard, with an understanding (and binding statute) that all RPS proceeds would flow into this fund to support renewable energy initiates in the GraniteState. This action to divert REF funds is ill-advised, contrary to sound fiscal policy and potentially contrary to the law. Additionally, with electric rates soaring this winter, it has never been more important to preserve this fund to help consumers invest in renewable energy (fuel-free) generation sources.
The REF is the sole source for solar electric and small wind rebates, biomass boiler and furnace rebates, solar thermal rebates, and competitive grants for hydroelectric, wind, cogeneration, and other innovative technologies that harness renewable energy resources. Not coincidentally, these are the only energy sources within our borders. These projects allow consumers to better control their energy and financial futures. The results support this goal.
These REF results are as important as its origins. This fund has thousands of stories to tell (over 2,068, to be precise). Homeowners, businesses, schools, and towns have spent countless time and resources to bring renewable energy projects to fruition. They have invested their own money along with the help of public REF dollars. The REF, on average, is leveraged five to one: private or non-state funds to those from the state. These projects also yield electricity savings, fuel oil savings, greenhouse gas emissions reductions, and retain wealth in our economy.
For example, Monadnock Paper Mills received an REF grant to rebuild a dormant hydroelectric system and displaced hundreds of thousands of fossil-fuel based kilowatt-hours otherwise purchased from the grid. GreenvilleElementary School was able to install a high-efficiency wood pellet boiler, fueled by pellets produced in Jaffrey, NH. Consider the wood chip cogeneration system constructed at the Sullivan County Complex that now saves the county $290,000 per year: The REF contributed $300,000 to this $3.18 million dollar project. SanbornRegionalHigh School in Kingston, NH installed a solar hot air system and now purchases the heat output through a first-ever solar thermal power purchase agreement at a discount from what it would pay for heating oil. These projects, and thousands more, would not have been possible without the REF.
Unfortunately, common sense and good fiscal governance seems to be faltering. In the last budget year, Governor Hassan and the Legislature passed a bipartisan budget that quietly swept over $16 million from the REF into the General Fund. This special fund is established by law (NH RSA 362-F:10), restricted in its use for these efforts, and does not provide authority for the repurposing of these funds in any circumstance. Hundreds, if not thousands of opportunities were lost. Tens of millions of dollars of private investment flowed elsewhere. Luckily, the fund remains solvent—for now.
In past years, the solar electric rebate program from homeowners has run out of funding. Municipalities and businesses have requested millions in funds that were not available. This need not happen. Over 1,400 homeowners have invested in wood pellet or solar electric generation systems – this is merely a fraction of the technical and economic potential we know exists. Likewise for the commercial and industrial sectors. New Hampshire must stopping raiding this fund if it truly intends to continue to pursue an innovative economy, transparent fiscal policy, and trustworthy government.
Kate Epsen is the Executive Director of the NH Sustainable Energy Association. www.nhsea.org.