The New Hampshire Senate voted Wednesday to revise its participation in a regional program designed to reduce carbon dioxide emissions while bringing in money to help pay for energy efficiency programs.
The Legislature is considering withdrawing New Hampshire from the 10-state Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, which requires utilities and other companies that generate greenhouse gases to reduce pollution or bid at auction for allowances giving them the right to produce certain amounts of carbon dioxide.
Proceeds from the auction go into a state fund used to reduce energy usage.
The Senate voted 16-8 Wednesday to approve an amendment proposed by Senate Republican Leader Jeb Bradley to a House bill. The amendment retains the state's participation in the program but limits how the money is spent by dedicating it to well-established energy efficiency programs run by the utility companies.
The amendment replaces a bill passed by the House in March that would end the state's participation in RGGI, but the Senate lacks the votes to override a gubernatorial veto of that legislation. Bradley's proposal is meant as a compromise.
Gov. John Lynch has not said he would veto the House bill, but he opposes efforts to end New Hampshire's participation in the greenhouse gas initiative.
"You can't always get what you want," Bradley said, "but what we need today is good government. ... We have got to fund programs that work."
Bradley estimates New Hampshire's program costs the average ratepayer 35 cents per month. His proposal would drop the monthly cost to 17 cents.
He said it ends "politically motivated grants" while preserving funding for the utility company efficiency programs that were responsible for about 85 percent of the energy savings for the state.
Lynch argues that withdrawal from the regional program would leave New Hampshire consumers with higher electric costs but without the benefits that help consumers and businesses improve their energy efficiency. He said withdrawing would cost the state $12 million in annual revenues without lowering electric rates.
Lynch spokesman Colin Manning said Wednesday the governor believes it makes economic sense to remain in the program.
"He's supportive of the effort to keep the state in RGGI like the one that passed the Senate today," Manning said.
The revisions passed by the Senate still require additional votes from the House and Senate before the changed legislation can advance to the governor but the vote does put up a roadblock for those who supported a complete repeal of the law.
"At its core, RGGI is a failed program," said Henniker Republican Sen. Andy Sanborn, who opposed the changes and favors a full repeal.
He and others rejected the argument that the greenhouse gas initiative helps create jobs as homeowners and business owners take advantage of loans and grants to save on energy costs.
"They're picking winners and losers," said Sen. Ray White, a Bedford Republican, calling it a "wealth redistribution" system.