CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — New Hampshire already lags behind most of its neighbors in expanding its use of renewable energy but that hasn't stopped several groups from using this legislative session to attack those nascent efforts.
Led by the Americans for Prosperity, the advocacy group founded by billionaire Koch brothers, these groups support a bill that would pull New Hampshire out of the nine-state Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative. The program has reduced carbon dioxide emissions from electrical generation in those eight states by 40 percent over the last decade.
Another bill calls for repealing the state's Electric Renewable Energy Portfolio, which requires utilities to get a percentage of their power from renewable sources.
Supporters of these bills argue they would help bring down energy prices, which are blamed for driving away business from the state.
"If you look at our legislative agenda, it's all about making the state more competitive," said Greg Moore, state director for Americans for Prosperity, which has targeted solar initiatives in several other states. "When you have high electric rates, you are just not competitive."
But opponents contend there is little connection between these programs and high energy prices. Instead, they see this as veiled effort to assist the fossil fuel industry that has struggled to compete against cleaner burning natural gas and renewable sources.
"There are significant changes going on in New England around energy and energy infrastructure," said Sierra Club's Catherine Corkery, noting that both bills have a lot of support in the legislature. "They are desperate. They don't want to lose the small change they are getting now. These coal and oil running power plants are shutting down because they aren't economic."
Both programs bring benefits to New Hampshire including ratepayers. In exchange for the nine states reducing emissions 2.5 percent each year through the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, about $15 million was returned to the state last year with $12 million of that going to ratepayers. Those figures are set to rise.
The state has concluded that electricity rates for consumers would go down if New Hampshire pulled out of the Initiative but that "the loss of rate rebates to customers as a result of repeal is likely to be far greater than the reduction in retail rates."
In the case of the renewable energy portfolio, utilities and energy suppliers were required to source 8.5 percent of their power from renewable sources last year and more than 17 percent this year. If they can't meet that figure, those groups are required to pay into a fund for state renewable energy projects.
Sen. Jeb Bradley, the GOP Senate Majority leader who has been a leading voice energy policy in the state, said he understands the concerns over high energy prices but doesn't expect either of these bills to pass. Part of the reason, he said, is that the renewable energy sector is a growing industry and scrapping the renewable energy portfolio could put jobs at risk.
Bradley and others said the real fight is over efforts to bring down the cost of power generation in the state by finding new energy sources.
"When all said and done, the current laws will largely stay in place," Bradley said. "What we need to do in New England is to site new sources of generation in a way that protects people's property values and their rights. That is a tough needle to thread."