The good news? The legislature is adjourned except for a one-day session to pass the buck on solving the education funding crisis. What's good about the adjournment is that they can do little harm while adjourned.
In reality though, fans of alternative energy developments should be ecstatic about a session that advanced the cause and moved the state closer to energy independence. We have a long way to go to reach that goal but at least the legislators recognized the issue as requiring immediate action.
One key victory for alternative energy, especially in Coos County, was actually a defeat.
Defeated was the original intent of SB 140 sponsored by Sen. Gallus and Reps. Theberge and Remich of Coos County. The stated intent was to enable PSNH to build a biomass plant anywhere in the state.
You see, following the state's efforts to deregulate the power industry it forbade PSNH from building another generation facility resigning them primarily to be distribution and transmission operators. They were allowed to maintain their present generation facilities (some hydros, numerous coal burners and the new, Newington plant (a biomass burner).
Instead the NH Legislature overwhelmingly supported heavily-amended SB 140 providing an important shot in the arm to alternative energy investors looking to plow a half billion dollars in wind and biomass energy projects in Coos.
What started as a PSNH-bill was altered by two key amendments and subsequent refinements to the bill.
Most important is language directing the NH Public Utilities Commission to accelerate discussion leading to upgrading the power transmission lines in Coos County that would allow alternative energy companies to ship their power onto the New England Power grid. Presently those lines offer about 51 megawatts of capacity or the output of a good-sized biomass plant.
Already Noble Environmental Power is in the Independent Systems Operator (ISO) queue for new power projects for 100 MW of wind generation from its proposed Phillips Brook project. Depending on what project comes on line first the others could be SOL in connecting and moving their power to market. (Kind of like I-93 from Manchester to Salem being so clogged with cars that other lanes are needed to relieve congestion).
.PSNH last built a generation facility in Newington (near Portsmouth) when it replaced a dirty, soft-coal burning plant at its Schiller Station with an equivalent 50 Megawatt wood-burning plant called Northern Wood Power station. That plant, now in operation, is burning a heavy diet of wood chips trucked in from development projects on Cape Cod and from southern New England.
Efforts to amend the bill from the House floor were thwarted by House Speaker Terry Norelli who ruled the Rep. John Thomas amendment "non-germane" to the bill.
The vote caps a wildly successful session for the alternative energy interests in the 2007 NH State Legislative session.
In addition to SB 140, both chambers supported creation of a Renewable Portfolio Standard which requires all electric utilities servicing NH customers to use increasing amounts of renewable energy in their power supply mix. This in turn creates demand for alternative energy investment meaning wind, hydro, biomass and solar power generators receive incentives, in the way of Renewable Energy Credits, for producing energy from renewable sources. A goal of 25% of the state's power from renewable sources by the year 2025 is part of the operating plan.
But there are several small flies in this sweet medicinal ointment and one is that: there are very few RECs in the current legislation somewhat defeating the incentive for alternative energy investments. Secondly, there is no language addressing efficient operation of any new or existing generation facility.
As I've said in this space previously, most thermal power generators turn fuel into steam which drives a turbine creating electricity. These units are notoriously inefficient (about 30% efficiency) meaning that if they are a biomass plant about 70% of the energy value in each ton of wood chips is pissed off in steam, thermal loss, condensing cycles and so forth. The problem with that scenario is fairly self-evident. Our finite wood resources are gobbled to fuel a wasteful power generation facility.
None of us would purposely buy a 5 miles per gallon vehicle if a 25 m.p.g vehicle were available. Nor would we install a 40% efficient oil burner in our homes. Why then would or should we condone a multi-million dollar power generation facility in our neighborhood that's the equivalent of a 16 cylinder Hummer?
If you are PSNH and operate with a mid 19th century mindset, making power is your focus. Nowhere in their business plan does the words co-location/co-generation appear. The concepts are too new for them to cozy up to.
I'm not picking on PSNH as I hold any biomass development by the same standards and would amend the RPS legislation in the next (2008) session to address generation efficiency, co-location, co-generation and throw in Renewable Energy Credits for upgrades to transmission lines that support alternative energy generation.
While admittedly a less than perfect bill (the old chestnut about not wanting to watch legislation or sausage being made holds true here), there is hope that the RPS legislation will evolve and mature into a true "green" bill which celebrates local initiatives, weans us from highly politicized and costly imported fuels and advances the causes of conservation and efficiency.
But how do we get from our present Point A to that end point of a truly "green" state energy policy?
Let's count some no-brainer initiatives we could adopt that would have a dramatic impact with little re-engineering to do.
- Ask the legislature to ban the sale of incandescent light bulbs. Oddly Wal-Mart is the largest seller of energy efficient Compact Fluorescent Light bulbs spawning an energy conservation effort on their own.
- Ask them to enact strict energy conservation building codes with specifics about appliance efficiencies. (LEEDS and Energy Star are both national building standards that could be mandated for every new home constructed or substantially remodeled in the state).
- Reward major investments in customer energy conservation programs by utilities with incentives. This action is called "decoupling" and a Public Utilities Commission docket is considering this policy right now.
- Move more data-entry jobs to telecommuting functions avoiding needless vehicle travel.
- Encourage district-heating in communities using local energy sources.
- Insist that Renewable Energy Credit eligibility requires high efficiency ratings for generation.
- Insist that any green and clean generation be accompanied by a decrease of dirty generation facilities.
Those are just a couple of talking points for legislators and regulators as they look to further evolve energy independence for the state.
As a region that stands to gain much by alternative energy investments, we as a county, should be looking at ways to benefit from these developments with something more substantial and sustainable than merely jobs and some tax receipts.
Thanks to Peter R. for guest blogging today.
To guest blog - send your blog in a word doc or email body to firstname.lastname@example.org