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Scientists push for new energy policy


May 26, 2010
LANCASTER — Representatives from the Union of Concerned Scientists are hoping energy production in the North Country can make a local, national and international impact all at the same time, while revitalizing the region's economy.

A new UCS report tags New Hampshire as one of the 10 most coal dependent states. The report looks at a half-dozen factors, including imports, to rate states.

Of the three fossil fuels, Coal is the dirtiest. It makes for cheap energy, but burning it releases carbon monoxide, mercury, arsenic and lead, in addition to carbon dioxide, a leading cause of global warming. It also contributes to smog, acid rain and other types of air pollution.

New Hampshire spent $133 million on imported coal in 2008, the report said, which Public Service of New Hampshire burned to generate electricity. And while some of that coal came from other states like West Virginia and Pennsylvania, PSNH spent $79 million on coal from abroad, primarily from Venezuela and Colombia.

So why send $79 million abroad and $54 million more out of state, the UCS is asking, when New Hampshire has the resources to make clean, green electricity right here?

"There's a lot of alternatives here," said Alan Nogee, Energy Program Director of the UCS, "there are local alternatives. Right now that's not even being considered."

Why not supply the state with power from wind farms and wood-burning biomass plants like those being proposed and built around the North Country? he said. Why not put New Hampshire money to work creating New Hampshire jobs while reducing pollution and greenhouse gas emissions at the same time, he said, instead of supporting foreign regimes hostile to the United States?

He and others are looking to Concord and to Washington for a way to make it happen.

"If you get the policies right the markets will respond," said Kenneth Colburn, former head of the the Air Resources Division of the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services. He's now working with UCS, and he sees a possibility for a green future in the region.

The state Public Utilities Commission, energy officials and lawmakers need to make changes to facilitate this sort of change, he said.

PSNH buys fuel from abroad because that's where the fuel is, PSNH spokesman Martin Murray said, and they import coal from South America in particular "so we can produce a blend of coal that significantly reduces sulfur emissions."

The company is working to make energy production more energy conscious, he said, but any realistic timeline includes coal use for the forseeable future.

Former state senator Fred King, however, is hoping the switch from coal to renewable sources can happen soon.

The governor wants 25 percent of the state's energy generated via renewable means, he pointed out. "We can produce all of that in Cos County," he said, but the legislature has to enact new policies have to make it happen.

The most important changes, however, have to occur at the federal level, Mr. Nogee said.

"We need to have a national energy policy," he said.

A national energy policy could address the shortcomings that hamper electricity production in the North Country, said Jim Rubens, former Republican state senator and UCS consultant. The federal government has the tools tackle the biggest challenge, he said: the lack of adequate transmission capability to carry energy produced in the North Country to markets further south.

The men are all putting their hopes in the climate and energy bill currently working its way through the U.S. Senate. The bill will create the framework for reviving the North Country, they said, by allocating money for transmission and putting limits on greenhouse gas emissions, which will affect the viability of coal. It could be a boon to the North Country, they said.

The bill was written by Senator Joseph Lieberman, independent from Connecticut and Senator John Kerry, Democrat from Massachusetts. It's nearly 1,000 pages and has yet to garner much Republican support.

Mr. Rubens, Mr. King, Mr. Nogee and Mr. Colburn are hoping Senator Judd Gregg can change that.

"We'd like to see him more engaged," Mr. Rubens said.

Senator Gregg is not seeking reelection, and he has a history of bipartisanship. Mr. Rubens, Mr. King, Mr. Nogee and Mr. Colburn are hoping he can use his weight in the Senate to get this piece of legislation moving because of the impact it can have on the environment and North Country.

New Hampshire's influence in the proceedings will only go down come November, Mr. Colburn said no matter who is elected to fill Senator Gregg's seat. "Right now we have the A team," he said; a first term senator, regardless of party, won't have the clout Senator Gregg does.

Senator Gregg is still in the process of reviewing the legislation, his office said, along with several other energy and conservation proposals. He has not yet determined whether he will support or oppose the Kerry Lieberman bill, or any other bill on the matter.

"A major policy undertaking such as this would have broad implications for all Americans," he said in a statement, "which is why I intend to carefully review each proposal's impact and costs."

In the meantime New Hampshire industries are susceptible to the impacts of global warming, Mr. Rubens said. Whether it's the ski industry or the wood industry, he said, rising temperatures could have a devastating impact. Senator Gregg is in the unique position to broach the divide between party lines to make something happen with this legislation, he said.

Mr. Rubens Republican credentials include a run for the governor's seat in 1998 and chair of the state Republican Platform Committee in 2000. The atmosphere in Washington has been hostile to moderate candidates willing to negotiate with members of the other party recently, with moderates suffering defeats in several recent primaries, but Senator Gregg isn't running for reelection this term.

Now is the time Senator Gregg can really do something for the North Country, Mr. Rubens said, and at the same time the world.

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