Note: The following piece appeared as an OpEd in the Portsmouth Herald earlier in 2010.

If you are interested, in one fell swoop, in watching the legislature reverse a bipartisan-passed law, favor one electricity provider over all others, stymie entrepreneurial competition for the next generation of high-paying green jobs, and leave electricity ratepayers – rather than shareholders – on the hook if a private investment goes bad, then do I have a proposed amendment coming out of Concord for you!

First, though, a little background.

New Hampshire’s Renewable Portfolio Standard, or RPS, comes from a law enacted in 2007 that requires all electricity providers in New Hampshire to gradually increase the percentage of their electricity coming from renewable sources (such as biomass or wind). The goal is for just under 25% of our electricity coming from renewable sources by 2025. About 30 states nationally have a similar law, and it passed both the New Hampshire House and Senate with overwhelming bipartisan majorities.

If an electricity provider does not meet the minimum RPS target for a given year, they have to pay a fee – the further below the target minimum, the larger the fee. That money goes into a pool, and as currently intended, any entity can respond to a request for projects that would help New Hampshire increase its renewable energy capacity. The fund currently has about a million dollars in it, and is expected to grow to upwards of $8 million over the next several years.

At a time when there is a national emphasis on stimulating 21st century “green jobs”, with technologies that create high-paying, difficult-to-export jobs, this pool of competitively-granted capital funds is exciting for many young entrepreneurs I’ve met in New Hampshire.

However, an amendment was filed last week in the state legislature which would allow an electricity provider – PSNH, the single largest payer of this fee in the state – to avoid paying fees for failing to meet minimum RPS standards for the next two years, because of assurances that PSNH will use their unpaid fees towards a future RPS-friendly project.

If passed into law, PSNH would be able to take the fees they owe, and keep them to help pay for their own future projects. It would completely dismantle the competitive RFP process for other innovators, including promising green job startups, or other existing electricity providers. Perhaps this is why, if passed, we would be the first and only state to allow such a maneuver.

Of course, PSNH, and the politicians seeking to dismantle this competitive process, claim this changing of the rules is in the name of speedily creating green jobs. Ignoring for a moment that this smacks of “the ends justifying the means”, the project they hope to use these fees to build is widely anticipated to create five temporary jobs. And, perhaps worst of all, this proposed amendment would uniquely allow PSNH to use ratepayers, rather than shareholders, to finance the project. In short, they can simply ask ratepayers to bail them out through their utility bills.

So, in light of this proposed amendment, I would urge our elected officials in Concord: Empower entrepreneurs to compete for this grant money. Let them create the next generation of high-value jobs. Do not allow ratepayers to replace shareholders as the bearers of stranded costs if PSNH’s projects do not succeed. And most of all, allow the laws you’ve already passed the time to succeed.

Advertisements