Pushing for Renewable Energy in New Hampshire

New Hampshire Legislators approved a customer based system benefits charge (SBC), also known as a public benefit fund, four years ago to provide funding for energy efficiency and renewable energy programs. The state’s four utilities chose to fund energy efficiency measures with the money, partly because of open-ended language used in the bill, and some people would like to ensure that utilities add renewable energy projects into the mix.

New Hampshire Sustainable Energy Association (NHSEA) member Mark Weisflogg and Association President Laura Richardson, and NHSEA members Gilford Richardson and Carolyn Demorest went before the State Science, Technology and Energy Committee to amend House Bill (HB) 718 FN so that utilities would be required to add renewable energy projects to state power generation sources. Manchester Rep. Will Infantine sponsored the bill. “What we’re trying to do here is clarify the intent of the legislation that was passed in 2002,” Weisflogg said. Wording in the original house bill 718 stated that utilities could choose to fund renewable energy projects at their discretion, and in addition to energy efficiency and low-income programs. NHSEA members proposed changing the language to require utilities to use a portion of the SBC for renewable energy projects. An SBC, or public benefits fund, is a state mandated energy fund used to ensure that energy efficiency, renewable energy, and low-income assistance programs are active and available in a state. Every electricity customer in the New Hampshire pays the SBC as a part of his or her monthly electric bill. The charge is three-tenths of a cent, or 3 mils, for every kWh of energy a customer uses. So, if a customer uses 1,000 kWh of electricity, there will be a SBC of $3. New Hampshire utilities split the SBC funds between low-income payment assistance programs, which get 1.2 mills of the SBC and cannot be allocated to other projects, and energy efficiency programs, which get 1.8 mills and fund projects such as residential energy audits and rebates on Energy Star appliances. Similar rebates and incentives are available for businesses in the state. According to the PEW Center on Global Climate Change, there are 23 states in the U.S. that have public benefit funds (PBF). Only 14 of the 23 dedicated funds to both energy efficiency and renewable energy projects. States without PBF will often use utility-run energy efficiency programs based on customer demand. Though the committee was interested in what type of renewable energy projects NHSEA members have in mind, how to fund the projects was a more immediate concern. The committee had recently reviewed the current SBC programs under HB 718 and sent the bill back to the Senate floor for approval on a three-year extension of the programs. Committee member Rep. Lawrence Ross got right to the point. “How much money do you expect to take from the system benefits charge?” he asked. Weisflogg said the group came up with an estimate of six percent of the total fund allocated for energy efficiency programs. Public Service of New Hampshire (PSNH) is the largest power provider in the state, and collected $13.8 million just for energy efficiency programs in the 2004 budget year, according to company Spokesman Martin Murray. GSE, which serves as the utility for approximately 6 percent of the electric customers in the state, collected $1.4 million for energy efficiency programs, and the total SBC collected for energy efficiency programs from the state’s four utilities was $19 million. Tim Stout, who is the vice president of Energy Efficiency at GSE, said that additional programs could be a burden on the available energy efficiency SBC funds. “The system benefits is so low now, if we were to take some for renewable energy projects it would negatively impact energy efficiency projects,” he said. How much money could or should go toward the program is getting ahead of the game, however, GSE Executive Vice President Bill Sherry said. Designing a renewable energy program that is either technology or generation based should come first. Definitions of what is and is not a renewable energy source also needs to be defined, according to Shapiro. As do questions such as: should the program be incentive based, and who should determine the program components. Even though there appears to be a lot of work left to do on how the state should approach a renewable energy program, Lisa Shapiro, who is a lobbyist for GSE, said it isn’t a surprise that the New Hampshire Sustainable Energy Association presented a bill amendment to get things started. “It seems appropriate that someone would come forward to do this,” she said. Editor’s Note GSE’s program budget numbers in this story have been changed since the original posting date to account for miscommunication.
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