Sunday, June 5, 2016

What can we learn from the failure of HB 1660?

HB 1660 was a modest proposition.  It stipulated that if a pipeline company planned to take a portion of your land that was within 250 feet of your residence, you could insist they buy you out for fair market value and cover relocation expenses.  If you didn't like the appraised value they offered on any taking, you could hire your own appraiser at the pipeline company's expense. 

Of course, this wouldn't help abutters whose residences may be even closer.  And, truthfully, 250 feet isn't much comfort with the incineration zone for a 30 inch, 1400 psi pipeline having a radius of 1000 feet.  In case the name doesn't make it obvious; an incineration zone describes an area that will reach temperatures so high everything in it's radius will be cremated.  

State law for eminent domain takings by utilities offer a more generous solution, "Attempts to even enter a property for surveying require 30-day prior notification, and successful seizures of residential property require the owner receive “reasonable relocation and housing replacement costs.”" from

As the bill's sponsors pointed out, pipeline companies claim that a buried pipeline does not have a negative impact on property values.  If that is the case, then it should be no problem to buy out a homeowner and resell the property to people who don't mind living with a pipeline.

For residents of Southern New Hampshire, passage of HB 1660 would provide a small measure of comfort after the trauma they've been facing for the last 18 months.

That didn't happen.

While many House members were focused on protecting property owners by mitigating the harms that would be done through eminent domain takings, the Senate took a different approach.

 My next project will be to study the legislative history of RGGI in New Hampshire.  RGGI funds come from a carbon tax on power generators who sell into the ISO-NE market.  Currently, they pay about $5/Ton of carbon they produce.  The money is intended to be used to mitigate and reduce carbon emissions.

In New Hampshire, under current law, all the money except the first $1/Ton is rebated back to electric customers on a per kWh basis.  The total funds available for rebate amounts to about $1.70 per month for an average residential customer.  A large manufacturer could see thousands of dollars in rebates each month. 

SB 492 was also a modest proposal.  It would have increased the amount of funding for weatherizing low income residential homes to 35% of revenues instead of the current 20%.  It would also increase the funding for municipal and school district energy projects from $2 to $5 million, annually.

The Business Industry Association and BAE Systems, who normally testify against anything related to energy efficiency and RGGI, supported SB 492 because although it increased funding from RGGI proceeds for the residential market, it rebated all RGGI contributions for the Commercial and Industrial ratepayers.  So those large manufacturers would get thousands of dollars in rebates each month, but would not have access to funding and programs that support energy efficiency and renewable energy.

The three targets for RGGI funding and programs would benefit all ratepayers and taxpayers in the State. 

The low income weatherization program is just plain common sense.  Residents who qualify for fuel assistance would get help reducing their energy usage through energy audits and weatherization/efficiency projects.  Doesn't it make sense to ensure that the energy dollars we are spending on those homes are being used efficiently?   There are currently 10,000 low income homes on a waiting list for weatherization.  Current funding only allows for about 400 homes per year to be weatherized.   We could be addressing 2000 homes per year if we fully invested RGGI funds as they were intended.  Think of the relief we could offer to struggling families! 

The municipal and school district funding would make pots of money available to reduce the cost to local residents for energy efficiency and renewable projects on municipal and school district buildings.  These funds seldom cover the entire cost of a project; they just provide grants to help make it more affordable.  The big need for funds for schools and towns is that they don't pay federal taxes and therefore can't benefit from tax credits. 

SB 492 was the perfect bill for the House to pass on RGGI.  It was fair to all ratepayers.  It made the BIA and BAE Systems happy.  It would have demonstrated "reasonableness" on energy issues.  If we're going to prevent pipelines; we have to support other approaches to reducing energy costs. 

But SB 492 wasn't a perfect bill.  First of all, I would be very surprised if most Business Industry Association (BIA) members agree with the positions against renewable energy and energy efficiency the BIA takes in the name of its members.  Who is paying for the Energize NH campaign?  Local Chambers might not be very happy to find their membership dollars being spent to lobby against fair deals for net metering that may help them hold down the bottom line on energy expenses.  But, I suspect the funding actually comes from the American Petroleum Institute and America's Natural Gas Alliance.  (They paid for the "La Capra" Study that the utilities and BIA quote from at all the legislative and PUC hearings.)

Moreover, RGGI is currently in the review process and the NH PUC is establishing an Energy Efficiency Renewable Standard (EERS).  There may be needed legislative changes as a result of these procedures in the next Session. 

I wish that the Senate, with eight members on the way out, had found it in their hearts to pass HB 1660 and extract a promise of cooperation from the House on RGGI in the next session.  Allowing SB 492 to pass would have looked like an "olive branch" from the House.  Both Chambers failed us. 

We need Chamber members across the state to start talking about positions on Net Metering and RGGI.  Does the BIA really reflect your will? 

We need House members to fully embrace RGGI and stop messing about with the Renewable Energy Fund.  Review years are actually written into the legislation.  Don't muck about with the rules in between those periods.  It makes it extremely difficult for energy companies to write proposals or business plans when the rules and funding keep changing. 

Make sure your Representatives KNOW you support RGGI and the Renewable Energy Fund.  Ask them about it as they start campaigning this summer.  Call BS on them if they start talking about "redistribution of wealth."  The RGGI fund is a perfect example of capitalism.  We, the people, invest the capital from RGGI in projects to reduce the need for more infrastructure.  Our $1.70/month rebate won't make much difference in our lives, but saving 20% per year on our heating bills will!