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Another View -- Bob Backus: NH is fighting climate change with responsible policies

June 26. 2014 9:49PM

Recent opinion offerings from the Cato lnstitute (June 18) and the editor (“Political climate change,” June 22) suggest that New Hampshire’s policy initiatives to control emission of carbon dioxide, the principal global warming gas, are misguided.

The two principal policies are, first, the New Hampshire renewable portfolio standard (RPS), which calls for the state to meet 25 percent of its electric energy needs by 2025 with renewables and, second, the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, or RGGI. They are sound laws that are working.

New Hampshire is one of many states to have an RPS, and for very sound reasons. As stated in the statute’s statement of purpose, “Renewable energy generation technologies can provide fuel diversity…through use of local renewable fuels and resources that serve to displace and thereby lower regional dependence on fossil fuels. This has the potential to lower and stabilize future energy costs… .”

But of course, the number one reason to encourage increased use of renewables is to slow the rise of greenhouse gases, which are driving the now indisputably evident present and oncoming climate disruption.

In a major piece in the New York Times on Sunday, June 22, former Secretary of the Treasury Henry Paulson, a Republican who served President George W. Bush, compared the oncoming climate crisis with the financial meltdown that hit in 2008. “This is a crisis we can’t afford to ignore,” he writes. “I feel as if I’m watching as we fly in slow motion on a collision course toward a giant mountain. We can see the crash coming, and yet we’re sitting on our hands rather than altering course.” RPS is one modest step we have taken so that New Hampshire is not sitting on its hands.

The pushback against the various RPS laws is coming mostly from groups funded by the fossil fuel industry, including the Koch brothers. Their disinformation campaign has led one state, Ohio, to freeze the targets of its RPS.

RGGI is the first, and still only, cap-and-trade program in the United States. It included nine Northeastern states, and all New England states, until New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie unilaterally took his state out of the program. For a tiny fee collected through electric rates, it funds energy efficiency projects that return savings year after year to those financing energy savings projects through the programs administered by public utility commissions.

But the most significant part of the law requires that electric utilities “cap” their emissions to meet incrementally stricter standards. They can meet the standards by trading for credits from energy providers that have exceeded their allotments; hence “cap and trade.” If they fail to meet the cap limit, or acquire sufficient renewable energy credits, they can pay a fee, the Alternative Compliance Payment.

RGGI has two important attributes. First, it is a market-based program rather than a command-and-control regulatory program. Thus, it should find favor with free-market, anti-government advocates. And it addresses greenhouse gas issues without the major alternative — a carbon tax, which is what Secretary Paulson advocates. Second, it addresses what has been, is now, and will be, the cheapest and fastest way to deal with our energy problems: energy efficiency.

In my career, I have seen one after another “white hope” fall into disfavor, including using nuclear fission to boil water to spin a turbine. More recently I’ve experienced vociferous opposition in some areas to new commercial wind projects. Yet for more than 30 years the low hanging fruit among energy solutions has been using energy more efficiently, whether by using CLF bulbs, now being displaced by LED lighting, or saving thermal energy through housing retrofits.

And this is where RGGI helps the most. New Hampshire, wisely and uniquely, included saving thermal energy, not just electricity, as part of the program.

One other thing: Thanks to RGGI, New Hampshire will have a much easier time than states that lack the program in meeting the new, tighter emissions requirements announced last month by EPA. Thanks to RGGI and RPS, we are already on the way to meeting the new goals. This will be an economic advantage for our region.

These programs are not perfect, and they are only part of what is required. But they are working. Let’s keep and improve them.

Bob Backus is a Manchester attorney and a Democratic state representative.

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