A way to open up the state’s logjam in building renewable energy projects could come out of a proposed 10-state regional greenhouse initiative. According to the Public Utilities Commission, the North Country needs a power line upgrade in the $200-million range to help developers build hundreds of megawatts of future wind farms and biomass electricity plants. Those could meet most of the state’s goal of producing 25 percent of its electricity from renewable sources by 2025.
Until they win approval or drop out, those projects at the head of the line are blocking plans for a 600-megawatt gas-fired plant somewhere in Rockingham County. The would-be developer is unidentified on the Web site of the ISO-New England electric grid. The federal approval process accepts applicants on a first-come, first served basis.
The existing Public Service lines in Coos County have fewer than 100 megawatts of extra carrying capacity, not quite enough for the first project in the queue. That’s Noble Energy’s plan for a 100-megawatt wind farm on a series of ridge lines. That company and some of its competitors say they might work together to buy their power lines, but none could build the whole upgrade.
A proposed House bill by Nadia Kaen, D-Lee, would let the state sell 8.6 million carbon emission allowances into a regional auction. Policymakers hope for proceeds in the $15 million to $25 million range, and maybe more, assuming an average price between $2 and $3. The state would use that money to spur energy conservation programs and the production of renewable power.
The New Hampshire quota corresponds to the 8.6 million tons of carbon dioxide per year released by Public Service, the Con-Edison gas-fired plant in Newington, and one like it in Londonderry. Public Service accounts for 5.4 million tons per year of the CO2 implicated in global warming because it traps atmospheric heat.
Those three fossil-fuel burners would have to buy allowances to cover their smokestack emissions. Public Service might eventually spend $15 million or more, a cost it could pass along to its ratepayers under state law.
However, Public Service would start with a large and disputed credit of allowances under the existing Clean Power Act for building its wood-fired plant at Schiller Station in Portsmouth. The company claims that its new 50-megawatt plant has earned 32 million allowances, based on the price from a voluntary market for allowances in the Midwest. That number would meet the company’s emissions quota for nearly six years. State officials are offering 4 million allowances, based on the price from the mandatory European market.
Why not build lines?
North Country officials suggest using some of the new money, however much it is, to remove the huge barrier to new power plants. That revenue could defray some or all of the interest and principle payments on a power line construction bond, without raising taxes. The argument goes like this. Asking small power plants to build a major highway for electricity is a bit like telling the firms in the Pease Development Center to widen the Spaulding Turnpike.
Rep. Jay Phinizy, D-Acworth, chairs the House Environment and Agriculture Committee, and he is watching the proposed CO2 auction as a tool for environmental protection. He said he’d consider a role for the state in upgrading the line, but maybe the private firms should repay the state as they go online.
Colin Manning, a spokesman for Gov. John Lynch, said the chief executive hasn’t studied the idea.
“But that being said, Gov. Lynch is committed to making New Hampshire a regional leader in renewable energy,” Manning said, “and he is speaking with stakeholders across the state to determine the best way to enhance the transmission infrastructure.”
Sen. Martha Fuller Clark, D-Portsmouth, chairs the Senate Environment and Energy Committee and said she’d entertain using the emission allowances to build power lines.
“Can we use alternative compliance payments for power lines, too?” she asked. “Those are both things we need to examine. We need renewable energy to create jobs and economic development.”
Fuller Clark spearheaded a law last term that requires regulated electric utilities like Public Service to buy renewable energy credits starting in January. If they don’t acquire enough of them, they have to pay the state the equivalent of a fine called an alternative payment. That money would promote green power.
The senator wants any policy to come out of a full discussion among all the players on all the options. That group would include the power plants, the Public Utilities Commission, the ISO-New England energy exchange, the other states in the grid and the feds.
A mistake to avoid
Fuller Clark went to a Statehouse briefing Thursday by four members of British Parliament to learn about renewable energy advances on the continent, especially a three-year-old carbon emissions auction run by the European Union. The visitors said Europe erred in giving the allowances to power plants and other large energy users for free. Those items became a commodity with strong market value, and the program turned into a financial windfall for polluters at the expense of consumers. The Union plans to correct the problem and keep the program.
Rep. John Thomas, R-Belmont, sits on the House Energy Committee, and worries about the costs and dangers in an emissions auction. He pointed to the bad experience in Europe and the highly volatile energy market in California several years ago.
“What’s to keep a speculator from buying up allowances until the price rises out of sight?” he asked.
Staff from the Air Resources Bureau briefed lawmakers this month on preliminary plans for the auction, and said the rules would limit any buyer to a small percentage of the allowances in any calendar quarter. Regulators would watch for signs of market manipulation and react to stop it.
Joanne Morin, a program manager in the Air Resources Bureau, said the state will see higher energy costs from the auction, whether it takes part in the regional program or not. But it has to participate in order to sell allowances.
A recent report by economist Ross Gittell of UNH and colleague Matt Magnusson said using the auction proceeds for energy conservation programs would reduce electric bills long term. Assuming a likely $2 price per allowance, the average customer would pay 87 cents more per month in 2009, but would save $1.37 by 2018. Giving the auction revenue directly to New Hampshire ratepayers would help them in the short term, but would hurt them long term, the study showed.
Rep. Kaen chairs the House Science, Technology and Energy Committee and wanted to learn from the British what Denmark is doing with windmills. David Chaytor, an MP in the Labor Party, said Denmark has built a dominant industry. The English city of Manchester had the engineers and infrastructure to beat them to it, but never saw the opportunity.
“The Danes understood early on that climate change and wind turbines could be a boon for them,” Chaytor said. “Now they have the biggest market share. We threw that away.”
Energy reform support
This spring, 174 towns, including 22 in the Seacoast, passed nearly identical town meeting warrant articles urging Congress and the White House to address global warming, cut greenhouse gas emissions, and spur the growth of a green power industry. Most of these proposals got onto the ballot by citizen petition, thanks to hundreds of volunteers with the N.H. Carbon Coalition, a statewide nonprofit agency. The measures also pledged each town would fight the problem at the local level.
Here’s the list of area towns: Atkinson, Barrington, Brentwood, Durham, East Kingston, Exeter, Greenland, Hampton, Hampton Falls, Kensington, Kingston, Lee, Madbury, New Castle, Newfields, Newmarket, North Hampton, Rye, South Hampton, and Stratham.
Rep. Jim Splaine, D-Portsmouth, helped arrange some shop talk this past week between five visiting Russian journalists and the regular Statehouse reporters. It was part of the Portsmouth/Severodvinsk Connection, a cultural exchange between two sister cities with nuclear shipyards.
Inna Lehman of Dover, a Russian immigrant, helped translate a halting but lively dialogue about the ethics of and barriers to good journalism. Two of the journalists spoke English and also served as go-betweens: Katya Karaseva of the English-language TV station, “Russia Today,” and Dityatev Grigory, an editor with the weekly paper Volna in Archangelsk.
It became clear that journalists need a lot more courage to work in Russia, even under a regime that just held national elections again. Grigory said the local governor chided one of his editors for a “not so good story” criticizing government treatment of the poor. A new national policy requires half of any story about government to be positive.
Artem Popov covers cops and local government for a print daily in Severodvinsk with 16,000 readers, most of them elderly. The newsstand price is about 8 cents, but the young still get most of their news from the Web. Popov said it’s a lot harder to sue a Russian journalist than it is here. Opinions are exempt for the libel laws.
“You just have to identify it as your opinion,” he said.
Karaseva said her news outlet has been spared close scrutiny by censors.
“At least for now,” she added.
Irina Shorshieva, a TV reporter, said some journalists receive threats.
“But they’re not related to political affiliations,” she said. “It’s not like under communism. We’re free to write.”
An international group that advocates for the media, Reporters without Borders, rates Russia 144th in the world for freedom of the press. The program’s Web site points to pressure on the media under President Vladimir Putin. It also decries the unsolved murder of high-profile Anna Politkovskaya in 2006 and the fruitless probes into the killings of dozens of other writers and editors since 1990. Most had criticized the state or organized crime.
The United States rates 44th, by the way. That’s mostly for squashing efforts to reveal the whole truth about detained terrorists. Both countries rank worse than three nations with poor reputations for human rights: Chile for its history of right-wing death squads; Romania for its suffering under the late Nicolae Ceausescu; Bosnia for the horrors that needed some new terminology to describe them. Ethnic cleansing.
Chris Dornin, of Golden Dome News, covers the Statehouse in Concord.
16 December 2007
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