New Hampshire House chooses energy efficiency over rebates

New Hampshire lawmakers signaled they support programs that make schools and homes more energy efficient over simply giving ratepayers a slight reduction on their electricity bills.

The issue came up several times Tuesday around the debate about how best to use money returned to the state from a program known as Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, which works to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The initiative, which covers nine states, has been credited with cutting emissions by 30 percent and sending nearly $3 billion in savings back to the states during the last decade.

The program works by limiting the amount of carbon dioxide a power plant can release and requires a company to buy credits equal to the amount of those emissions. Money raised through auctioning credits goes back to the states.

The House gave preliminary approved to a bill that takes the RGGI money that goes to the half-million residential ratepayers — about $6 a year each — and redirects it to energy efficiency and weatherization programs for municipalities, schools and low-income residents.

State Rep. Herb Richardson argued it takes what amounts to a cup of coffee for most residents and provides funding for some of the 40,000 low-income residents waiting for weatherization assistance across the state. The program includes an energy audit and improvements aimed at helping homeowners cut their electric and fuel costs.

"I have pledged to represent the low- and middle-income people of this great state — people who are often forgotten," Richardson said.

He said a bill he authored helps that population with energy and weatherization projects in their homes, he told lawmakers. "It also helps municipalities and schools with projects, projects that have been held over and held off for many years due to a lack of funding."

A second bill was defeated that would have returned the estimated $14 million to ratepayers and spend nothing on renewable energy and energy efficiency programs.

Supporters, including Americans for Prosperity, the conservative advocacy group founded by billionaire Koch brothers, argued returning the money to ratepayers would reduce energy prices in the state and allow residents to determine how best they wanted to spend the rebate.

"If the ratepayers were allowed to keep their money, it's as if they are just going to bury it in their backyard and not go out and spend it," Republican Rep. Michael Harrington, who authored bill, said. "They'll go out and spend it. They may use it on their own energy efficiency programs. They may buy something new that they otherwise wouldn't buy. They'll drive the economy."

Opponents of the bill, including many environmentalists, argued that it would undercut the state's effort to promote energy efficiency and expand projects fueled by wind, solar and hydro power. They also argued it would also contradict the goals of Richardson's bill, which had been passed earlier in the day.

"This short-sighted, dead-end policy of rebating pennies on the monthly bill instead of investing in New Hampshire's future means we will all continue to waste energy, waste money and pay higher electricity bills," Democratic Rep. Lee Oxenham told lawmakers. "By not investing in the latest technology and transitioning to an advanced energy economy, we risk New Hampshire becoming an economic backwater."