• ECHO Action Editor

NH State Rep suggests a bill requiring solar subsidies be listed as a tax

"Mike Harrington needs to be voted out of office, "I am thinking of filing a bill that would require all the renewable subsidies to be called what they are - a tax," he said. "Every electric bill would list the solar subsidy tax, wind subsidy tax, biomass subsidy tax, et cetera, as a specific line item so ratepayers would actually know what they are paying for." Harrington has also tried to pull us out of RGGI, deny funds to the EERS (Energy Efficiency Resource Standard) and kill the RPS!"

- Pat Martin

"State Representative Mike Harrington, a former PUC commissioner, seems to be lining up with the rest of the Republicans pushing against renewables and for a pipeline. We can promise resistance to the bill he suggests filing. #FossilFree603"

- Stephanie Scherr

Solar boom fuels debate on state rebates

By DAVE SOLOMON New Hampshire Union Leader July 30. 2017 1:30AM

CONCORD-- Citing reduced funding and surging consumer demand, the state has suspended residential and commercial solar rebate programs, which subsidize installation of solar panels for homes and businesses. The decision by the Public Utilities Commission to suspend the programs has renewed the debate over the value of these subsidies, and whether they should be expanded or curtailed. Supporters view them as a valuable incentive to promote the growth of renewable energy that, in the long run, will benefit all ratepayers. "Policymakers can and should consider new sources of funding for these rebate programs to ensure all customers have access to clean energy and energy independence," said Brianna Brand with the N.H. Solar Energy Association. One option to consider, she said, would be an allocation from the $5 million Clean Energy Fund set up through the agreement between the state and Eversource for the sale of Eversource power plants, known as the Divestiture Settlement. Mike Harrington, a former Public Utilities commissioner and current state representative, says that's going in the wrong direction. Harrington and like-minded individuals believe forcing utilities to buy renewable energy at above-market costs to fund these programs is a hidden tax on the ratepayers at large. "I am thinking of filing a bill that would require all the renewable subsidies to be called what they are - a tax," he said. "Every electric bill would list the solar subsidy tax, wind subsidy tax, biomass subsidy tax, et cetera, as a specific line item so ratepayers would actually know what they are paying for." Chris Lee of ReVision Energy tightens the bolts while installing the Goffstown solar unit. (DAVID LANE/UNION LEADER) No new applications The state's new fiscal year was barely underway on July 14, when the Public Utilities Commission announced that both solar and wind rebate programs are closed to new applications at least until Sept. 1, to give the Public Utilities Commission time to take stock of the program's finances. Applications for the residential solar and wind rebates, now worth $2,500 per site, received after June 30 are being returned, as are commercial or industrial applications received after July 13. Unfunded applications before those dates are being put on a waitlist. "Until we verify exactly how much funding is available, it's prudent to suspend these programs for a couple of months," said Amanda Noonan, consumer services and external affairs director at the Public Utilities Commission. New Hampshire's Renewable Portfolio Standard, now celebrating its 10th anniversary, has been controversial since it was signed into law in May 2007 as the Renewable Energy Act. It requires each supplier of electricity in New Hampshire to demonstrate that they are obtaining about 25 percent of their electricity from renewable resources by the year 2025. Suppliers who can't meet the annual requirement in any 12-month period have to make "Alternative Compliance Payments" that fuel the Renewable Energy Fund. As more renewable energy comes on line, utilities and suppliers are able to make smaller alternative payments because they are actually able to purchase the required amount. The Legislature also changes the volume of renewable energy that must be purchased annually as new legislation is approved from one session to another. Senate Bill 129, which Gov. Chris Sununu recently allowed to become law without his signature, increases the percentage required from solar from 0.3 percent to 0.7 percent. Anthony Kanehl, left, and Frank Rayno of ReVision Energy install a ground-mounted solar unit at a private residence in Goffstown on Friday. (DAVID LANE/UNION LEADER) Funding fluctuates The fund was as high as $19 million in its early years, but is estimated at $3.6 million for fiscal year 2018, which began on July 1. As the size of the fund has declined, its popularity has increased. "Solar is experiencing record demand, mainly because prices have come down 75 percent in the past 10 years," said Jack Ruderman, director of community solar initiatives for ReVision Energy, which has offices in New Hampshire, Maine and Massachusetts. Pricing is critical because the state subsidy, if you can get it, still only covers a fraction of the cost of a rooftop solar array, which can run from $12,000 to $30,000. "The technology has proven itself and is increasingly familiar to people in New Hampshire," said Ruderman. "Solar is seen as a good investment that saves ratepayers significant sums of money over the long term. It's also popular due to increasing concerns about climate change and our state's over-reliance on imported fossil fuels." Ruderman previously served as director of the Sustainable Energy Division at the PUC, where he was responsible for administering the Renewable Energy Fund. He witnessed the growth in the program firsthand. "In the first four years of the residential solar rebate program, from 2010-2013, the PUC received slightly more than 200 applications per year," he said. "The numbers started rising in 2014 and by 2016 the program was at 1,127 applications." Funds for the 2017 program were exhausted in May, with $1.5 million committed to applications on the waitlist as soon as the current fiscal year got underway on July 1. "The problem is a weak and unpredictable funding mechanism, not excessive demand," says Ruderman. "Without a doubt ACPs (Alternative Compliance Payments) are not the right funding mechanism. Policymakers and the solar industry need to develop a new incentive program that is adequately funded, stable and predictable." Market sending signals Brand, with the Solar Energy Association, says the market is sending signals that support solar. "It's important to recognize the demand has remained high even as the incentive has been gradually lowered, from up to $6,000 for a residential installation rebate to a current maximum of $2,500," she said. "The solar industry has also grown, and currently provides 1,200-plus good-paying New Hampshire jobs." If so, says Harrington, the industry should be able to stand on its own. Those who do not benefit directly from renewable energy should not be forced to subsidize it on their electric bills, he said. "Do Republicans and Democrats both believe that New Hampshire electric ratepayers are too stupid to buy the 'right' type of electricity and therefore must be forced to do so?" he asked. "Basic economics dictate that in the long run more jobs will be lost due to higher electric rates." Ruderman and others in the solar industry dispute that assessment. "It's a fallacy that requiring electric suppliers to buy solar (will increase) rates for non-solar ratepayers," he said. "It's well-established that solar reduces peak demand for electricity, and thereby helps to reduce rates for all ratepayers." There's little doubt that the amount of electricity generated by photovoltaic systems will continue to grow, even with the suspension of the state's solar rebate program. "The rebate programs have experienced start-stop issues in the past, including the waitlists," said Brand. "Solar industry installers will likely work with their customers to determine appropriate pricing options and timelines." The state will have a better idea of where the Renewable Energy Fund stands when the Public Utilities Commission completes its audit in September. First in line for the residential program will be wait-listed applications received on or before June 30.


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