The renewable energy job subsidy schemes

Did you know that you’re the target of multiple state schemes to transfer wealth quietly to a handful of politically favored businesses scattered around New Hampshire? Well, you are, unless you live off the grid and are receiving this email on a home-brewed server built with whittled sticks and hand-mined silicon and powered by hungry marmots.

If you use electricity, the state is deliberately transferring money from your bank account (or buck-skin pouch if you’re turning survivalist but haven’t fully migrated off the grid yet) to various businesses liked by a majority of legislators.

The Renewable Portfolio Standards and Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative are well-known plots to subsidize the types of energy businesses legislators prefer over the ones that offer customers the best rates. Less well known are other schemes to subsidize biomass plants.

New Hampshire Business Review had a good overview this week of two Senate-passed bills that would expand these subsidies.

SB 365 would compel New Hampshire’s default energy providers to buy power from small generating facilities (biomass plants, waste incinerators and hydro-power dams).

The bill states that these small power plants “are at-risk due to energy pricing volatility.” That is a creative interpretation. The plants are at risk because they struggle to compete on price with power plants that use lower-cost fuels such as natural gas.

Senate Bill 577 requires the Public Utilities Commission to open up for reconsideration (with the legislative intent of expanding) an existing order allowing a power purchase agreement between Eversource and the Burgess BioPower Plant in Berlin. Under that agreement, Eversource buys power from the Berlin plant at above-market rates until Eversource customers have overpaid for their electricity by $100 million.

Under pressure from legislators, Eversouce entered into this agreement in 2011. The $100 million in customer overpayments was not supposed to be hit for 20 years, but the halfway point was passed last year. SB 577 was written to keep this gravy train going.

Then there is Senate Bill 446, “an act relative to net energy metering limits for customer-generators.” As was explained in testimony at as the House Science, Technology, and Energy Committee public hearing on Wednesday, the bill’s title is not an accurate representation of its primary purpose. Its purpose is to subsidize New Hampshire’s six remaining biomass power plants.

Under net metering, people with small solar arrays can sell power to utility companies. The catch is that the state requires utility companies to buy the power at a rate set above the wholesale rate, creating a subsidy. This transfers money from ratepayers (you, your employer, your local government, your school district, etc.) to these “consumer-generators.”

SB 446 lets large-scale renewable power generation facilities that produce between 1 and 5 megawatts of electricity claim net metering subsidies (at a rate set by the Public Utilities Commission). It further states that facilities generating up to 25 mw can be paid under the net metering scheme for their first 5 mw of electricity. This huge expansion of the net metering subsidy was designed specifically to transfer your money (and everyone else’s) to the state’s six remaining biomass plants (though the bill also includes large-scale solar projects).

At the public hearing on Wednesday, numerous speakers said the subsidy was critical because without it 900 jobs in the wood products industry would be lost. Though sponsors could not say how much the bill would cost ratepayers, no one disputed an estimate of $20 million per year.

So to save 900 jobs in a state with a 2.6 percent unemployment rate and more than 15,000 job openings, legislators want to make everyone else in the state — including the employers of the state’s remaining workforce of more than 703,000 people — pay $20 million more a year for electricity.

New Hampshire Employment Security projected just this month that New Hampshire would produce 83,822 job openings this year. That’s 82,922 more jobs than would be lost if the state’s six biomass plants closed.

It should be obvious that it’s not good policy to try to save 900 jobs (if that) in a dying industry by ratcheting up electricity rates by tens of millions of dollars a year, thereby jeopardizing thousands of jobs in thriving manufacturing and other businesses. Yet this bill still passed the Senate. Maybe all the Senate’s calculators are broken.

(This essay was originally published in our weekly email newsletter of March 30, 2018. Sign up for our newsletter here and get a fresh take on a hot New Hampshire issue every Friday.  If you don’t like them, you can unsubscribe at any time.)

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  1. […] Keep in mind that these acts of extortion still have to pass the House, so before that happens perhaps they should read this from Drew Cline over at the Josiah Bartlett Center for Public Policy. […]

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