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WMCC hosts a forum on financing green energy

November 18, 2009
BERLIN — Representatives from the state, private and public sector held a information session at White Mountains Community College last Monday on energy efficiency, green energy and financing options available to reduce the state's energy consumption.

Speakers from the New Hampshire Office of Energy and Planning, the Public Utilities Commission, the Biomass Energy Resource Center and the law firm Rath Young Pignatelli spoke in rapid succession, with very little time for questions. They dispensed a lot of information in a short period, covering some of the various issues facing energy producers and consumers in New Hampshire.

Joe Short, of the Northern Forest Center, served as the moderator, keeping the discussion moving. The NFC deals with a lot of issues, he said, but "today's topic, renewable energy, falls in the sweet spot."

The first speaker was Richard Ober, of the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation, also the chair of the PUC's Energy Efficiency and Sustainable Energy Board.

He said he sees the opportunity for New Hampshire to reduce its dependence on foreign oil, and northern New Hampshire will be an important part of that process.

"If there is one part of New Hampshire that has the community and the ability to recognize an issue and take advantage of it," he said, "it is the North Country."

There will be two parts to the equation, he said: reducing energy use and increasing the percent of renewable energy supply. He called it a "smaller, greener pie."

"We are at a moment in time to try to move beyond our dependence on fossil fuels," He said. "The pieces are in place here in New Hampshire."

The country was on the path before, during the 1970s, he said, and it can return to the path again. The government, however, will only be a small part of the solution.

"Public money is never going to be enough to actually change the economy," he said. It can set up the parameters for change, but private sector has to do the rest.

Next was Jack Ruderman, director of the Division of Sustainable Energy at the PUC. He told the audience about rebate programs available for home owners if they install solar or wind generators or solar hot water systems for home use.

"Between the federal and the state incentives we're really hoping to stimulate the market in a big way," he said.

There are also federal funds to reduce greenhouse gases, and grant money from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act for green projects.

"In terms of who is eligible for these grants, essentially everyone," he said.

In the North Country there were several recipients the $17 million the government gave out in ARRA funds. The Gorham Fire Department received $26,000, Fraser Paper received $470,000, and the North Country Resource Council received $44,000 in the last round of grants.

"We have a very robust program at the moment," he said, and they are preparing for the next round of grants, most likely early next year.

Joanne Morin, the director of the Office of Energy and Planning, gave an overview of what her department is doing.

"There's a lot of money coming to the state," she said, about $16 million.

It is coming from in the form of stimulus funds, and it is about creating jobs and pushing money out into the economy, she said.

There have been increased efforts at weatherization, she said, and green block grants, as well as an appliance rebate program.

There are 16 different programs, she said, with lots of money going out. There is $3.5 million for business and non-profit loan and grant program, and $9.6 million in energy efficiency and conservation block grants—$7.1 million for municipalities.

"Most of our funding is going to those municipalities that did not get directly funded," she said.

There is $634,500 for the counties of Cos, Grafton and Carroll, she said; the funds are divided up based on population.

Chris Recchia, from the Biomass Energy Resource Center, said he wanted to talk about the federal work going on regarding heating and energy. Most discussion on the federal level about energy is in reference to electricity and transportation, he said, but in the Northeast home heating is a large part of energy consumption.

While Washington worries about cars, "we are concerned about freezing," he said.

There are new federal programs looking at thermal applications for biomass, he said, but at this point they have yet to be funded. The big question in the future will be where the money comes from for new ideas, he said.

The final presenter was Chuck Willing, an attorney for Rath Young Pignatelli, a law firm in Concord that represents developers. His firm represents Laidlaw, he said, though he does not. He represented the private industry side of the energy equation.

Mr. Willing went through several of the federal tax credit and rebate programs that are available for the next few years, but several of them have a cutoff date by which the project must be completed.

It used to be possible to find investors, he said, but "it's been much harder to do this since the economic downturn began."

"Right now it's really difficult to get a loan or get funding," he said. "A big challenge is showing the purchase of your energy is also a good credit risk."

A lot of banks have stopped lending, he said. On top of that, he said it's more difficult to find financing for a project incorporating new technology because the financiers don't consider it proven. The landscape is tough right now for developers, he said.

Salmon Press
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