Environment
4:19 pm
Thu March 29, 2012

New Renewable Energy Rules Face an Uphill Battle

 

The New Hampshire legislature is considering a bill that would expand the state’s renewable portfolio standards. That means more money to subsidize renewable energy.

Supporters say the measure is a real boost to the state’s wood industries, but critics doubt whether the new subsidies are worth the price.

There’s a little something for everyone in the new Renewable Portfolio Standards.

PSNH likes it because they would get credit for burning wood or coco beans along with coal in one of their plants. Environmentalists like it because it would subsidize places like Concord Steam.

Peter Bloomfield, the president of Concord Steam, shows off some of the antique boilers sandwiched in to the tiny plant.  

"This one was originally put in in 1948," he says, "And we converted it to burn wood around 1980."

Right now hydroelectric, solar, and wind operators get subsidy money from the state, as do plants that burn wood to make electricity. 

But places like Concord Steam don’t, and Concord Steam is actually more environmentally friendly than the traditional biomass electric plants. Typical wood-burning plants send a lot of waste heat straight up their smoke stacks, but Concord Steam pipes that heat to buildings on Main Street.

It’s almost like a big woodstove for the city. Not only that, but Concord Steam generates electricity too.

"We basically use the steam twice," says Bloomfield pointing to a set of turbines spinning next to the boilers, "We make it in the boilers, we make some electricity with it and when it comes out the backs of the turbines, we then send it downtown."

What Concord Steam is doing is two to three times more efficient than burning fuel just to make electricity.

The bill before the New Hampshire legislature would encourage more operations like Concord Steam to start providing energy. If it becomes law, schools, hospitals or any big building that puts in a wood-boiler heater could get support. 

More places heating with wood-chips or pellets means more money for New Hampshire’s loggers, foresters, and wood sellers. That’s why Senate majority leader Jeb Bradley threw his weight behind expanding the state’s renewable portfolio standards.

Speaking before the NH Senate last week Bradley testified "the economic benefits from our RPS laws is pretty significant. The modifications in this bill will improve our law by retaining the wealth and jobs in New Hampshire and expanding our energy diversity."

The proposed changes sailed through the Senate last week on voice vote, but there are storm clouds ahead in the House of Representatives.

Representative Jim Garrity, who chairs the committee that will hear the bill, says Representatives in the House are worried about the cost to electric rate-payers. He says he’s probably going to cut this subsidy.

"It won’t be as rich," Garrity says, "It’ll be more how’s this going to effect every man and everyone who pays electric bills.”

The Public Utilities Commission estimates on average rate payers pay about 90 cents a month to subsidize renewable energy.

According to Charlie Niebling of New England Wood Pellet, the expanded standards would add another ten cents or so to that price tag.

"Yes there is a cost but you have to look at the benefit." Niebling says, "You’re keeping all that money swimming in New Hampshire’s economy instead of leaving our economy."

Niebling knows the House has been reluctant to pass anything costs Granite Staters money, but he says that ten cents a month for local jobs and renewable energy is a price worth paying.