It is very unusual for a state that gets very little of its energy from coal to vote in favor of polluters, as New Hampshire just did, when its new Republican majority voted to end New Hampshire’s membership in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) in a veto-proof majority – that its Democratic Governor, who is in favor of RGGI membership, will be unable to overcome.
RGGI regulates the pollution from power plants, and is kept out of states that are controlled by pollution interests. But New Hampshire gets only 15% of its power from coal and 30% from natural gas.
Northeast Utilities, which has five coal plants in the state, all of which emit over the 25,000 ton yearly limit of carbon dioxide, would have been the only coal company affected. Two plants totaling 459 MW, built in the ’60s, emit over 3 million tons between them annually, and another group, totaling 150 MW, emits 593,000 tons a year.
The RGGI fees on polluters are used to fund energy efficiency measures. So far $404 million has been raised and spent on energy efficiency measures by all the RGGI states since the pollution auctions began.
New Hampshire dipped into its auction fund in June to help balance its budget.The amount was small in comparison: the June auction alone raised $40 million for energy and efficiency measures, and the state voted to take between $2.96-$3.1 million to retroactively cover the startup and administrative costs of getting the program up and running in 2008.
But over 98% of the total auction proceeds since joining has paid for direct grants or subsidies for energy, whether in a low income heating assistance fund, to help businesses with energy retrofits, or to subsidize solar roofs.
What will happen to these subsidies and grants with the pullout? The bill has yet to go to the now Republican Senate, but not every Republican voted with polluters in this House vote, so it is possible that some short term respite might be granted for a year. Two Representatives, Frank Holden (R-Lyndeborough) and Sam Cataldo (R-Framnington) did offer an amendment delaying pullout till January of 2012.
What will be the effect on the funding for solar? Without RGGI funding, New Hampshire residents would still be able to take the 30% Federal tax credit that reduces the cost to the homeowner just like all US residents can, even in the polluter-controlled states like Tennessee and Alabama. That would reduce a typical system to somewhere between $15,000 and $20,000 for a system sized for New Hampshire insolation.
But before pulling out of RGGI, a New Hampshire solar roof could also get a state subsidy as well, through RGGI’s Greenhouse Gas Emissions Reduction Fund (GHGERF) at the rate of $1,000 per kilowatt, which meant that an average home in New Hampshire could get an additional up-front price reduction of somewhere between $4,000 (if for 4 KW system) to $8,000 (if for an 8 KW solar system).
The larger the system, the more clean power it contributes to the grid and the greater the energy savings over time, but the higher the upfront cost. Modern solar is normally connected to the grid, which acts as a giant battery, storing energy on sunny days for use at night. The utility credits the solar homeowner for that energy contribution, resulting in small or no electric bills depending on the size of the solar system installed.
This made RGGI an efficient money-raising mechanism for the direct swap of dirty coal energy for clean solar energy. Once installed a solar roof is permanently fuel-free, and pays for itself over the life of the roof, contributing clean power to the grid for at least the next 40 or so years.
Republicans in the US do not accept the vast body of scientific evidence for anthropogenic climate change, which in all other nations conservative parties now accept as a scientific fact. Because they do not see the need to reduce the greenhouse gases that destabilize the climate, funding new clean energy seems foolish to them, when there is plenty of dirty old energy available.
The oil billionaire Koch brothers funded the Republican party in the last elections and paid for robo-calls through a front group, Americans for Properity, pushing for the bill to get New Hampshire out of RGGI.
Susan Kraemer writes at CleanTechnica, CSP-Today, PV-Insider , SmartGridUpdate and GreenProphet and has been published at Ecoseed, NRDC OnEarth, MatterNetwork, Celsius, EnergyNow and Scientific American. As a former serial entrepreneur in product design she brings an innovator's perspective on inventing a carbon-constrained civilization: If necessity is the mother of invention: solving climate change is the mother of all necessities! As a lover of history and sci fi, she enjoys chronicling the strange future we are creating in these interesting times. Follow Susan @dotcommodity on twitter.