CONCORD – The state’s renewable energy grant and rebate program is flush with cash after getting nearly eight times more in payments from electric service providers in 2012 than it did last year.
The Renewable Energy Fund, which collected $2.6 million in 2011, reported revenue of $19.1 million for 2012 in its annual report released Oct. 1. The state Legislature authorized the Public Utilities Commission to spend $5.6 million on the program for the fiscal year, based on what seemed like optimistic revenue forecasts at the time.
Now lawmakers will have to decide what to do with the $13.5 million surplus. They could put the money into more grants or rebate programs designed to promote the use of renewable energy as required by the state’s Renewable Portfolio Standards Law (RSA 362), approved in 2007, or they could amend the law and use the money some other way.
“It’s a dedicated, non-lapsing fund, so it’s supposed to be used for these purposes and these purposes only,” said Jack Ruderman, director of the Sustainable Energy Division in the PUC.
He said the PUC will seek authorization to use the additional money for the renewable energy programs, but there’s no guarantee that will happen.
Meanwhile, the PUC on Friday released a budget for how it intends to spend the $5.6 million that was authorized between now and the end of the fiscal year on June 30.
After accounting for administration costs ($95,000) and funds already granted ($813,790), the PUC has $4.7 million to distribute. The budget released on Friday calls for $2.7 million to go to commercial and industrial programs, with $1.9 million designated for residential programs.
If the entire revenue pool is made available, the PUC would commit $10.7 million to commercial and industrial, with $7.4 million going to residential, according to the fund’s annual report.
Both commercial and residential programs have been popular. The residential component has three rebate or grant programs, one for solar and wind-generated electricity, one for solar hot water and one for wood pellet boilers. Each program has different criteria and payouts.
The wood pellet program refunds 30 percent of the cost of boiler installation, up to a maximum of $6,000 per applicant, for bulk-fed systems that provide at least 75 percent of a home’s heating needs. That program, funded in the past with federal stimulus money, distributed $550,000 in rebates since 2010 and is allocated $450,000 in the new budget.
The program to subsidize solar hot water heaters is funded at $450,000, while a program for solar and wind-powered electricity is funded at $1 million. Funding for each program would go up substantially if the PUC gets legislative approval to distribute what has become somewhat of a windfall due in part to a shortage of alternative energy suppliers.
The law requires all electric service providers to get a certain percentage of their electricity from renewable energy providers, like wood-fired or small hydroelectric plants. If a service provider can’t get enough renewable energy to meet the requirements, it makes “alternative compliance payments” that go into the renewable energy fund.
Those payments, which totalled $1.3 million in 2010 and $2.6 million in 2011, skyrocketed in the past year, due mostly to the limited supply of energy from existing biomass and methane gas energy plants, according to the fund’s annual report. The limited number of plants that were generating electricity from biomass or methane chose for the most part to sell their power to service providers in other states at higher prices.
The program operates in all New England states and New York and was created, according to the PUC, “to provide fuel diversity not only to New Hampshire, but to the New England region as a whole, to lower regional dependence on fossil fuels, to stabilize and lower energy costs and to invest in local renewable energy.”
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