Clean Energy Being Derailed by Messy Process in Connecticut?

Mar 22, 2013 by  | Bio |  2 Comment »

On a sloppy March 19, while our changing climate threw a late winter storm of ice, snow, hail, sleet and rain at New England, a legislative hearing room in Hartford Connecticut was the focus of regional energy policy attention. The  Energy and Technology Committee of the Connecticut Legislature was holding a hearing on a bill to revise the Renewable Energy Portfolio standard of Connecticut – the Nutmeg State’s piece of the regional effort that has inspired a rising tide of wind and solar energy development across New England.

The bill before the committee that day, which bears the spine tingling and exciting name of “SB 1138 – An Act Concerning Connecticut’s Clean Energy Goals” was a complex piece of legislation making a whole series of changes to the important law that is Connecticut’s part of a successful regional effort to build new clean energy facilities.

An odd and disturbing subtext was this: at the very same moment that the hearing was going on the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection (DEEP) announced and released online a study of the very program being revised by the proposed law.  This meant that as DEEP Commissioner Dan Esty was introducing and explaining a law to change a critical energy and environmental program his Department was releasing a draft study, which would go through two months of public process, to decide whether to make the very kind of changes that the bill he was introducing would make. This is very similar to a group of kids playing baseball in front of plate glass window while promising to have a really focused conversation about where (and where not) was a safe place to play ball, vowing to do so right after their game ended.

To be fair, there is a real urgency to one part of the bill: the provision that would enable Connecticut to move quickly, perhaps in cooperation with other states, to enter into long-term contracts with windfarms and take advantage of the limited extension of the federal renewable energy incentives that (unless Congress changes its mind yet again) only apply to projects that are in construction by the end of 2013 – a deadline that seems like a long ways away, unless you are trying to build a large facility like a windfarm, in which case you understand that getting contracts in place as soon as possible is needed to have shovels in the ground and construction underway by the end of the year.

But another topic was the main focus of the hearing: the proposal to allow large Canadian hydroelectricity to participate in the program, a change long sought by Canadian provinces who seek to import money in exchange for power – and a change long opposed by those who wanted to keep the program focused on building new wind and solar resources for New England.

The hearing brought forth a flood of testimony. While there were over 100 pieces of written and in-person testimony presented to the committee it appears that only the state-owned Hydro Quebec utility, who would likely handsomely benefit if the bill became law, and Northeast Utilities, who are trying to build the infamous Northern Pass transmission line to bring that power to market, testified in favor of the very controversial change in eligibility benefiting large Canadian hydropower.

CLF’s testimony on Bill 1138 criticized that change in the law as disrupting a very successful renewable energy program, as did the testimony of business leaders and labor unions and many, many others. Our testimony graphically illustrated the ever-rising progress of wind power in New England as RPS-inspired projects came on line and fed clean power into the regional grid.Rise of wind energy in NE 2009-13

Some members of the committee, including Rep. Brian Becker, actively raised the question of whether the urgent portion of the bill that would allow Connecticut to move forward with procurement of wind and solar this year, in tandem with other states, could be severed from the other controversial portions of the bill that could be reviewed and discussed separately. No real response was ever given to this very legitimate concern.

In the aftermath of the hearing some of the environmental and business groups who testified delivered a letter to the legislative leadership summarizing the situation and, extraordinarily, officials in Massachusetts state government expressed concern about the bill – telling reporters that:

Massachusetts has taken the lead, working very closely with other New England states, in putting together a regional procurement plan for renewable energy. While we embrace a wide range of clean energy initiatives, we have serious concerns about how Connecticut’s proposed changes to its renewable portfolio standard will affect the region’s renewable market

Undeterred by this criticism and controversy and ignoring the clear issues of good government and process, as well as the need to foster business development through clear and consistent rules adopted after careful process, the Committee met and considered a very slightly revised version of the bill on March 20 in a meeting recorded in an online video.  Eight members of the Committee expressed real concern about the deep and systematic changes being made to a critical clean energy program. They, once again, aired the idea of severing the one small provision that needed to be moved rapidly, considering the rest of the bill after the study, already underway, was completed. Again, they did not get a public response.  The final vote of 16-8 shows who on the Committee stood where.  It is indeed striking not one of the 16 who voted “yea” was willing to defend their vote.

All signs point to the bill continuing to move ahead at a very rapid clip – in fact it may come to the floor of the legislature for a vote as soon as March 27 – when new gun laws being considered in the wake of the Newtown tragedy will be absorbing public interest.

If you live in Connecticut, or know someone who does, please use our action alert to urge the legislative leadership to stop the rush towards changing this important energy and environmental program.  Instead, very specific and timely action to join with other states to enter into long term contracts with new windfarms is needed and the rest of the changes to the renewable energy program should be carefully studied and considered.

Global Warming Conference – Saturday March 16 – Montpelier, VT

Mar 11, 2013 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

Senator Bernie Sanders is hosting a Global Warming Conference – What does it mean for Vermont?  — on Saturday March 16 from 10am to 4pm at Montpelier High School in Montpelier Vermont.

Bill McKibben will be the Keynote Speaker and Senator Sanders will be joined by Vermont and national leaders for workshops and discussions about climate change and what it means for Vermont.

I am pleased to join Senator Sanders and Bill McKibben for this event. It is a great opportunity to learn more about how we can tackle climate change together.

The event is free and open to the public and lunch will be provided.

More information is available here.

Why Should New England Subsidize Large-scale Canadian Hydropower?

Feb 26, 2013 by  | Bio |  2 Comment »

(photo credit: Jack Zalium/flickr)

Get ready: long-simmering chatter among lobbyists and officials in state houses and administrative agencies is about to become a loud, insistent chorus proclaiming that New England needs to give Canadian hydropower financial incentives so that our region can meet renewable energy and climate goals. This policy change would be a wrong turn for a region that is trying to build a truly clean energy future.

As we’ve been discussing for several years now, Québec and other eastern Canadian provinces are eager to increase power exports to New England, including through proposed transmission projects like Northern Pass. Our neighbors to the north have developed and are building more power than they need, and, until New England power prices began their historic decline, the economic motivation for increasing exports was clear: Canadian utilities like Hydro-Québec could sell power to customers in New England and the northeastern U.S. at much higher prices than their own domestic customers are paying. Profits from existing exports to the United States were and remain a major contributor to those utilities’ bottom lines, and they saw and planned to take advantage of a major opportunity to increase profits with new transmission capacity and newly developed hydropower facilities.

The economics behind this long-term Canadian strategy are increasingly in question. Following on the heels of recent technical analysis questioning the strategy’s underpinnings, the most recent projections from the U.S. Energy Information Administration show that total U.S. imports of all energy and electricity in particular are slated to decline over the next fifteen years, with electricity imports never again to achieve the peak level of imports seen in 2012. Given the availability of U.S.-based energy supplies at lower long-term prices, especially natural gas but also wind and other renewable sources, there will be less market demand in the U.S. for Canadian power. These projections reflect a very different reality from the prevailing expectations in 2008, when Hydro-Québec’s strategic plan and the Northern Pass proposal were taking shape. In a research note published last week, Stéphane Marione of Canada’s National Bank Financial warned that “none of the Canadian energy-producing provinces can ignore the profound changes that are taking place in the U.S.”

Montréal, we have a problem. In this new world, the potential market profits from Hydro-Québec’s export strategy are far less compelling. Hydro-Québec may not be able to sell power in New England at the prices it needs to recover the costs of building new transmission like the Northern Pass project and new hydropower projects like the Romaine complex and also return substantial export-driven dividends to the provincial budget.

One possible way that Hydro-Quebec could restore some of these profits is by convincing New England states to increase the price New England customers will pay for Canadian hydropower above the market price. While this may directly contradict the widely held assumption (and marketing claim) that Canadian hydropower is a low-cost power source that is economic without any special incentives, the cognitive dissonance has not prevented Hydro-Québec and Northern Pass developer Northeast Utilities from lobbying New England states to achieve just this goal, an effort CLF has opposed around the region, including in New Hampshire. (Hydro-Québec succeeded several years ago in convincing Vermont to allow its power to count towards a portion of the state’s renewable targets.)

Although the utilities’ lobbying is mostly outside the public view, it is increasingly occurring out in the open, with a direct and urgent new tone. Case in point: Hydro-Québec and Northeast Utilities recently filed comments on Connecticut’s draft energy strategy, which contained some language favoring expansion of Connecticut’s renewable portfolio standard program to include Canadian hydropower, the very policy change that the utilities are seeking. (Incidentally, the final strategy, released last week, made a few changes to the language, and Connecticut is now considering whether and how it might incentivize new imports in a separate study, which is due out soon.) So what did they say?

Hydro-Québec, through its U.S. trading subsidiary HQUS, commented that hydropower should be counted towards meeting Connecticut’s renewable objectives and that its hydropower is less costly than other renewables, but not all power in the marketplace:

HQUS urges Connecticut to recognize Hydro-Québec hydropower as a renewable resource and consider how it might contribute to achieving renewable objectives, as well as other important energy and economic goals. HQUS recognizes that Connecticut has multiple objectives for its renewable programs including to support the development of in-state and in-region resources and emerging technologies. However, if Connecticut’s priority is to maintain its commitment to renewable supply in a cost-effective matter, consideration should be given to the participation of Canadian hydropower. Allowing these resources to contribute to renewable objectives offers a pragmatic way for the state to lower program costs in the near term and, if desired, to extend and increase renewable goals into the future. An approach that values the multiple benefits of Canadian hydropower could also create a market signal necessary in today’s market to promote the infrastructure needed for incremental deliveries into the region for the benefit of all consumers….

Some stakeholders suggest that Hydro-Québec hydropower facilities are “cheap” or low cost to construct. This is incorrect. In fact the cost of building hydropower facilities is significant and generally also requires the construction of new transmission facilities to deliver generator output to load centers, which is also very costly. (Hydro-Québec has also proven successful in the development and construction of transmission facilities to deliver large quantities of electricity over long distances.) However, even with the added cost of transmission to deliver hydropower from Quebec into New England, HQUS estimates its costs to be significantly less than the cost of the delivering equivalent quantities of renewable power from other potential renewable resources in and near New England.

Northeast Utilities, through its Connecticut subsidiary Connecticut Light & Power, commented that hydropower delivered through new transmission projects should get incentives, which would count against the state’s current renewable requirements:

Connecticut has an opportunity to tap into Canadian hydroelectric facilities that are available now or under development, through the development of new transmission infrastructure. A Connecticut RPS market design, which acknowledges that RPS can not only enable new generation, but also support new, clean energy transmission infrastructure could, in this instance, provide for significant Connecticut customer savings….

CL&P believes Connecticut could create a new class of RECs for incremental hydro-electric supply that is delivered over a new transmission interconnection that has been built as an economic project (as opposed to a reliability-based one) which would supplant the need for meeting some portion of Class I RPS requirements….

CL&P believes that embracing large scale hydro power delivered on new transmission as a qualified renewable would meet all three of the State’s energy goals:

  • It would be cheaper than other clean energy resources,
  • It is clean with very low lifecycle CO2 emissions, established by independent scientific reviews, and
  • It is reliable, and would lessen the region’s dependence on natural gas for power generation needs.

It’s clear from these comments – and the utilities’ growing campaign to secure changes to New England’s renewable energy policies – that they are looking for subsidies from electric ratepayers to support new hydropower imports into the region. In fact, the Northeast Utilities comments constitute a direct effort to secure ratepayer subsidies for Canadian hydropower transmitted over Northern Pass, something Northeast Utilities repeatedly claimed it would not seek and does not need (e.g., herehere,  and here).* (For the record, they are mischaracterizing the emissions benefits to support their argument for subsidies. But that’s another story, well chronicled in prior posts.) Certainly, Hydro-Québec’s own comments reveal that its power can no longer beat the market on its own.

It’s also clear that, depending on how it is pursued, this kind of policy change threatens to put New England’s renewable energy industry at a deep and unfair disadvantage and to undermine its growth. Even Northeast Utilities, in the comments linked above, acknowledges this risk.

CLF has been clear that more Canadian hydropower could be a good thing for the region under the right conditions. But why should New England customers be forced to pay an above-market price? State renewable portfolio laws are intended to get new renewable projects built here, not to force ratepayers to pay extra to improve the economics of Québec’s new hydropower facilities and specific transmission development plans. That’s why CLF strongly objected to the draft Connecticut strategy’s mention of potential inclusion of Canadian hydropower in Connecticut’s renewable portfolio standard law. You can read our full comments, which address other major Connecticut energy issues as well, here.

It’s not too late for the New England states to get smart about new imports and make sure that new imports only happen, if at all, in cost-effective ways that allow alternative power sources and companies to compete on a level playing field, respect local communities, and provide meaningful economic and environmental benefits, accounted for in fair and open processes. Committing New England residents and businesses to pay above-market prices for Canadian hydropower isn’t one of them.

* from Northern Pass’s website, accessed today:

Providing economic clean energy—without a government subsidy

This will be one of the few—if not the only—renewable energy projects in the region that does not need a government subsidy to move forward. Hydro-Québec can generate and sell the power to us at prices that will compete with the average market prices that are being set today by fossil fuel power plants.

The Time is Right for Affordable Heat

Jan 17, 2013 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

Vermont is poised to take a big bite out of the high cost and pollution of heating our homes and businesses. Slashing a full one-quarter of both lies within our reach.

Over the past decade, the cost Vermonters pay for staying warm has more than doubled. This strains our pocketbooks, our environment, our health and our security. Watching our dollars go up in smoke drains our economy.

What can we do? Building on the enormous success of our electric efficiency efforts, we can improve the heating efficiency of our homes and businesses in a similar manner. While some efforts have begun, most of the savings opportunity remains on the table. Throughout Vermont, heating efficiency has saved the average homeowner about $1,000 a year.  (See a recent editorial here).

A new report of Vermont’s Thermal Efficiency Task Force provides a strong roadmap for jumpstarting heating efficiency and renewable heat for our homes and businesses. The Task Force recommendations show how Vermont can stretch its heating dollars farther and provide over $1.4 billion in direct savings. That’s $1.4 billion that is not going up in smoke, literally leaking out of our homes and businesses.

Affordable heat means lowering bills. Every year Vermont struggles to fund low income heating assistance (LIHEAP). With affordable heat, Vermont can reduce the funds needed and can use LIHEAP dollars to help more Vermonters. Cutting fuel use by one-quarter means that for every four homes that are weatherized, help is available for one additional family.

Affordable heat reduces pollution. Every gallon of fossil fuel we don’t burn means less pollution. Whether we are adding solar to our roofs or insulating/weatherizing our homes we leave a lasting positive legacy for our children by taking seriously our responsibility to tackle climate change and reduce pollution.

The long and short of it is that Vermont — and Vermonters — can’t afford to keep wasting energy, wasting money and wasting clean air. Vermont’s commitment to affordable heat is our ticket to more comfortable homes and businesses, and a thriving and affordable clean energy economy.

Waves of Change: Who’s in Charge Here?

Jan 11, 2013 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

Rules work better when we all understand them, but what happens when the rules overlap or conflict with one another? And, who is in charge of implementing all these rules anyhow? When it comes to the rules of the road we all learn the same common rules during the drivers’ education course. But, what happens when it comes to the rules which manage and protect our ocean and coasts?

Ocean and coastal resources are currently managed by more than 20 federal agencies and administered through a web of more than 140 different and often conflicting laws and regulations. We use our coasts and ocean for so many things – fishing, boating, swimming, tourism, shipping, renewable energy – and there are no easy guidelines about who is in charge at any given moment, in any given spot.

Fortunately, we are on our way to making this puzzle of governance a bit easier to solve.

The National Ocean Policy directs federal agencies to coordinate management activities, implement a science-based system of decision making, support safe and sustainable access and ocean uses, respect cultural practices and maritime heritage, and increase scientific understanding of ocean, coastal and Great Lakes ecosystems.

Improving the way in which federal and state agencies work with each other and the public is a distinct goal of the National Ocean Policy. To do this, the NOP presents a set of nine priority objectives for policies and management actions and establishes a new National Ocean Council (NOC), which will be responsible for developing strategic action plans for these priority objectives and leading coordination and collaboration between federal agencies.

A well coordinated group of agencies can better serve the people they are supposed to serve, create the jobs and economic benefits we all need, help us enjoy and safeguard our waters, beaches, and wildlife for our families and our future.

Another Blown Deadline: For Now, No “New Route” for Northern Pass

Jan 3, 2013 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

New Year's Eve in Times Square (photo credit: flickr/Mondayne)

The ball and other ceremonial objects have dropped, and 2013 has arrived. Although we mark the turn of the year with champagne, Auld Lang Syne, and a bevy of news stories and year-end blog posts, there’s not much genuinely “new” about the New Year. We hang a new calendar and start writing 2013 on legal briefs and checks (as the case may be), and life goes on.

Here in New Hampshire, the developer of the Northern Pass transmission project celebrated New Year’s Eve without any year-end changes. As revelers made their way to New Year’s Eve parties, in a classic “news dump” to minimize attention, Northern Pass Transmission LLC (NPT) posted a cryptic “project update” to its website. The update stated:

[W]e have identified a new route in the North Country that we will submit to the New Hampshire Site Evaluation Commission [sic] in the future for consideration and review.  We are in the process of finalizing this new proposal and will soon be prepared to announce its specific details….

We also recognize that while we are communicating with local citizens, stakeholders and public officials across New Hampshire, there is still much that can be done.  We believe this communication and dialogue is critical to the ultimate success of the new route and the project overall and felt it was necessary to take some additional time to continue these efforts before we publicly announce the new routing proposal.

In other words, NPT and its parent company Northeast Utilities (NU) had nothing new to announce, and the public will continue to wait for actual details and updated regulatory filings. And it’s not the first time Northern Pass’s developer has failed to deliver on its promise of a new route.

In May, NU set an August deadline for a route announcement; in July, NU set a September deadline; and throughout the fall, NU promised to finalize a route and file an updated Presidential Permit application with the U.S. Department of Energy by the end of the 2012, even going so far as to say that it had already obtained 99% of the land it needs. In this context, the Concord Monitor aptly reported on the New Year’s Eve “update”: Northern Pass misses deadline to unveil new route.

While NPT’s non-announcement wasn’t a surprise to CLF or others following the project closely, it was an important moment. It was, most of all, an embarrassing setback – the latest blown deadline after a series of blown deadlines stretching back to April 2011, when NPT decided to seek out a “new route” for the northernmost portion of the project.

NPT has been banking on its capacity to pay above-market land prices for a transmission corridor in the North Country. So far, the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests, its supporters from more than two hundred New Hampshire towns and cities and also from around the region and country, and a number of courageous landowners unwilling to sell at any price have achieved remarkable success in blocking NPT’s efforts on the ground, property-by-property. It would appear NPT’s confidence was misplaced.

For NU executives and investors, Hydro-Québec, and Northern Pass enthusiasts in southern New England, the project’s latest blown deadline should be a wake-up call.

It’s not working.

Not NPT’s back-room strategy to assemble a serpentine series of parcels for a new transmission corridor in the North Country, without any meaningful changes to the project’s design or the southern 80% of its proposed route.

Not NPT’s attempts to game the federal permitting process in its favor.

Not NPT’s bogus claims of environmental and economic benefits for New Hampshire and of wide support for the project.

Not NPT’s campaign to discredit affected citizens in the nearly three dozen communities that have declared opposition to the project and the entire New Hampshire conservation community as “not in my backyard” types and “special interests.”

In the New Year, Northern Pass’s developers should recognize that half of the “dialogue” they are promising is listening. The latest blown deadline should signal, loud and clear, that the current Northern Pass proposal won’t be successful, new route in Coös County or not.

The Latest on Northern Pass: A Year-End Roundup

Dec 28, 2012 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

As CLF begins a third year of advocacy on the Northern Pass project, some updates are in order:

The “New Route” Drama

With 2013 only days away, it is looking more and more likely that Northern Pass Transmission LLC (NPT) will not have secured 100% of a “new route” for the project’s northernmost portion by year end, as its public statements have been promising for months. As chronicled in a Boston Globe front-page story published earlier this week (the national daily’s first major story on Northern Pass), landowners are rejecting repeated offers from NPT, and our friends at the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests have secured agreements to conserve key parcels along what appears to NPT’s preferred new path. (According to report in yesterday’s Union Leader, NPT officials are readying some kind of “update” on the project’s progress, which may raise more questions than it answers.)

If NPT fails to make good on its promised “new route,” it will be a singular embarrassment and signal more wasted months of self-inflicted delay. It also will continue NPT’s troubling pattern of misleading investors and peddling falsehoods about the project.

Whatever the success of NPT’s attempt to buy a transmission corridor through New Hampshire’s North Country, Northern Pass overall will remain the same flawed proposal that affected communities and stakeholders have overwhelmingly rejected over the last two years. Susan Arnold of the Appalachian Mountain Club and I penned an op-ed with this message, and it was widely published in New Hampshire newspapers this month. Please take a moment to read the op-ed here.

NU’s False Statements Get Noticed

Over the last month, the Boston Globe, the Concord Monitor, Connecticut newspapers, and NHPR (complete with audio) published stories on Northeast Utilities CEO Tom May’s blatantly false statements about support for Northern Pass. Instead of correcting the comments, NU’s spokesperson compounded Mr. May’s misstatements by insisting, contrary to any possible interpretation of the comments, that Mr. May was speaking about support for the Cape Wind project – a renewable energy proposal backed by a strong public campaign that is co-sponsored by many of the region’s environmental groups. The contrast with Northern Pass couldn’t be starker.

A Broken Permitting Process

The Department of Energy’s permitting process for the Northern Pass project remains tainted by its abdication of responsibility to select an independent and impartial contractor to prepare the crucial environmental impact statement for the project. In a recent letter to Senator Shaheen, DOE repeated its prior position that it sees nothing wrong with the way the current contractor team was selected because NPT’s extraordinary role in the selection process was not unusual. As I explained in October, a precedent of repeating a mistake is no justification. In November, CLF filed a new Freedom of Information Act request to understand the activities of the contractor team, DOE, and NPT during the last year and the extent of NPT’s influence over the direction of the permitting process.

An Underground Alternative Emerges

Meanwhile, we are learning more about a realistic alternative to NPT’s current proposal that could address some community concerns and provide new public revenues. In November, a state legislative commission released an important report highlighting the feasibility of siting underground high-voltage transmission lines in state-owned transportation corridors. The report can be found here (PDF) and followed a lengthy process of collecting testimony and input from dozens of stakeholders, including CLF and a number of other conservation organizations. The report found that underground transmission technologies and corridors are “being used extensively throughout the U.S. and internationally,” “may increase the reliability and security of the electric transmission system,” and “may be technically and financially competitive with other transmission designs and locations.” The commission pointed to other pending transmission projects that incorporate underground technologies sited in state-owned transportation corridors as an indication that this approach “can be technically and financially viable.” (Earlier this week, New York officials recommended approval of one of these projects – the Champlain Hudson Power Express between Québec and New York City, which now includes more than 120 miles of underground high-voltage transmission in active railroad corridors and highways.)

While the state agency officials participating in the commission were reluctant to endorse specific policy proposals in the report (which they saw as outside the commission’s charge), many commission members emphasized the need for a proactive, comprehensive energy plan and a regulatory framework that would help New Hampshire assure that new transmission projects provide meaningful public benefits.

A majority of the commission’s legislator members recommended changes to the state siting process for energy projects, including a requirement that a transmission developer bring forward an underground alternative to any overhead project. It is expected that these recommendations will be among the many legislative proposals to amend the state siting law during the 2013 session of the New Hampshire legislature.

*             *             *

What will 2013 bring for the Northern Pass project and New Hampshire’s energy future? Stay updated by signing up for our newsletter Northern Pass Wire, and be sure to check in with CLF’s Northern Pass Information Center (http://www.clf.org/northern-pass) and all of our latest Northern Pass posts on CLF Scoop. You can also follow me on Twitter, where I often point to recent news articles on Northern Pass.

This Holiday, New Hampshire Will Buy a $128 Million Lump of Coal

Dec 18, 2012 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

photo credit: TimothyJ/flickr

Today, the New Hampshire Public Utilities Commission takes up PSNH’s request to charge its customers 9.54 cents per kilowatt hour for electric energy service in 2013. In a op-ed published this week, long-time CLF friends Ken Colburn and Rick Russman explain why New Hampshire’s crisis of escalating PSNH rates – and how New Hampshire policymakers resolve it – may be the defining economic issue for New Hampshire’s new class of leaders next year.

With PSNH’s rates to be by far the highest in the state and almost three cents higher than those of its sister utility NSTAR in Massachusetts, New Hampshire is dealing with an untenable situation: small businesses and residents are subsidizing PSNH’s above-market costs to operate and maintain dirty, inefficient, and uneconomic coal plants, to the tune of $128 million.* The average residential customer will pay $212 extra in 2013 for the dirtiest energy in the region.

To put $128 million in perspective, in 2011 New Hampshire invested less than a seventh of that amount, a mere $17.6 million, in electric energy efficiency programs – an energy solution that is lowering rates, reducing pollution, avoiding expensive new transmission projects, and creating jobs.

New Hampshire energy users are in effect giving this money away to keep alive New Hampshire’s biggest sources of toxic and greenhouse gas pollution (even though PSNH projects they will only operate at around 25% of their capacity in 2013) and to pay dividends to PSNH’s owner, New England mega-utility Northeast Utilities. And the situation will only get worse with time as PSNH customers join the thousands who have already picked an alternative energy supplier, leaving a shrinking base of customers to bear the heavy costs of PSNH’s coal fleet. (If you’re still a PSNH customer, you should definitely make the switch before the new year begins and PSNH’s new rates kick in.)

The blame for this economic and environmental travesty lies squarely with PSNH’s self-serving failure to plan for the future.

Yet PSNH is already trying to make the case that it needs a “fix” from the New Hampshire legislature to protect its coal plants, its 10% profit margin guarantee, and its protection from cleaner, cheaper competition. What’s even more bizarre – and indicative of its refusal to approach these issues honestly – is that PSNH is pinning its skyrocketing rates on the very factors that have reduced electric rates for everyone else in New England – namely, investments in energy efficiency and environmental protection and the increasing use of natural gas and competitive renewable energy sources. PSNH’s foolhardy but lucrative investments in its outdated power plants – for which it fought tooth and nail over the last decade – are the culprit, not environmental requirements that apply to all power plants in New Hampshire and across the region.

Please take a moment to read the op-ed and share widely with friends, neighbors, and especially your new representatives in Concord. For the good of the state’s economic and environmental health, they need to hear from you!

*  The math: PSNH customers will pay a 2.85 cent “premium” for every kilowatt hour over and above PSNH affiliate NSTAR’s market-based rates, and PSNH is projecting that it will sell more than 4 billion kilowatt hours of power to its remaining customers in 2013. The average household in New Hampshire uses 7,428 kilowatt hours per year.

PSNH's Merrimack Station

Distributed Generation Standard Contracts Act: A Success in Three Parts

Dec 13, 2012 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

On June 26, 2011, Governor Chafee signed into law the “Distributed Generation Standard Contracts Act.”  The bill had passed both houses of the General Assembly unanimously. The “distributed generation” in the title of the law refers to small, local renewable energy projects.

The new law was designed to do three things: (1) increase the number of small renewable energy projects that are built in Rhode Island; by (2) making it easier, quicker, and cheaper for developers of these projects to get contracts to sell their electricity to Rhode Island’s dominant utility, National Grid; and (3) get those renewable energy projects distributed into more of Rhode Island’s cities and towns.

Not every law passed by the General Assembly works out the way it was meant to, but the Distributed Generation Standard Contracts Act has been phenomenally successful in accomplishing each of its three goals.

Previous renewable energy laws in Rhode Island have worked the way they were intended: to get National Grid to buy more and more of its electricity each year from clean, renewable energy sources. But Rhode Island’s previous renewable energy laws also had a significant flaw: they worked very well for big projects, like Deepwater Wind’s proposed offshore wind farm, but they worked less well for small projects (like a town that wants to set up a single wind turbine at its town hall, as Portsmouth did). That is because under the prior laws, developers would have to hire a small army of lawyers to negotiate an excruciatingly long, detailed contract with Grid, setting forth everything from the price of the electricity to delivery schedule. (For example, the contract that Deepwater filed with the Public Utilities Commission on December 10, 2009 ran 62 pages in length!)  Hiring lawyers to negotiate a 62-page contract was just too time-consuming and expensive for a developer who had a small project.

The new law fixed that problem. As the name of the law suggests, it provided for a “standard contract” for developers of small projects. The standard contract was short, written in plain English, and easy to understand. In addition, the law provided for a standard price to be paid, and established a mechanism for setting a fair price for each different type of project – wind, solar, and so forth. These prices were designed to be high enough to get projects actually built, but low enough to protect electricity rate-payers.

And that is exactly how the new law has worked. In the 15 months since the bill was signed into law, National Grid has held three separate sign-up periods. To date, 18 separate projects have been signed up.  Each of these 18 separate projects will be built right here in Rhode Island. Thus, Rhode Islanders will directly enjoy the environmental and economic-development benefits of these projects. The main purpose of the new law, to get more local renewable energy projects built, has been accomplished – in spades.

The developer of each of these 18 projects got a simple, standard contract to sign, and will receive a set price for the electricity produced.  Thus, another one of the law’s purposes has been accomplished.

The projects themselves are located in Providence, East Providence, Portsmouth, Lincoln, Westerly, Bristol, West Greenwich, East Greenwich, Hopkinton, Middletown, Cumberland, North Kingstown, North Smithfield, and West Warwick.  This geographical distribution of new renewable energy projects was a third purpose of the law.

Rhode Island’s new Distributed Generation Standard Contracts Act has been so successful that it is becoming a model for the rest of the country. Renewable energy advocates in New York and Iowa are hoping to replicate the Rhode Island law in their states. The California Public Utilities Commission has circulated the Rhode Island law to its in-house legal staff. A group of Oregon legislators is poised to introduce a bill in the coming legislative session modeled after the successful Rhode Island law.

The Distributed Generation Standard Contracts Act is a classic win-win. It addresses the problem of climate change by reducing the carbon emissions that cause climate change. And it helps the Rhode Island economy by facilitating local development of renewable energy projects.

This is a law that Rhode Islanders can be proud of. Its enactment reflects well on our legislators (who passed it unanimously) and on Governor Chafee (who signed it into law). The law has been administered carefully and diligently by our Office of Energy Resources. And National Grid, which receives an economic incentive when projects start producing power, has worked conscientiously with developers to help developers succeed.

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