Kuster: I’ll Fight for Solar, Biomass Energy Legislation
PETERBOROUGH — Democratic U.S. Rep. Annie Kuster said Wednesday she can’t do much to stop Kinder Morgan from building a natural gas pipeline through southwest New Hampshire. But the congresswoman assured about a dozen Peterborough officials and renewable energy experts that she will fight for legislation that subsidizes projects for solar and biomass energy in the region, because these projects not only benefit the environment but also the economy.
Kuster said she would support legislation at a round table she hosted at Peterborough’s solar array, which when completed will be the largest solar array in New Hampshire. The solar array will generate between 800,000 to one million kilowatt hours of electricity per year, dependent on weather.
“What I love about this project is Peterborough is taking control of their future. Hundreds of thousands will be saved in tax dollars,” Kuster told the Ledger-Transcript.
Kuster also praised Froling Energy — a Peterborough contractor that builds biomass boilers in New Hampshire and Vermont — affirming renewable energy provides jobs, benefits the environment and decreases the U.S.’s dependence on foreign oil.
But renewable energy experts asked Kuster for more.
Borrego’s chief technology officer, Chris Anderson of Peterborough, Vice President of Product Development Andrew Reed and Joseph Harrison of the Community Development Finance Authority all asked Kuster to ensure Congress continues the solar Investment Tax Credit through 2017.
ITC is a 30-percent federal tax credit commercial and residential properties receive for solar systems. If Congress does not renew ITC at the end of 2016, the tax credit will drop to 10 percent.
Borrego Solar of Lowell, Massachusetts, installed the equipment for Peterborough’s solar array field, is leasing the field from Peterborough, and is planning to sell the electricity generated to Peterborough through a power-purchase agreement. Borrego paid the $2.6 million construction cost for the solar array, and received a $1.2 million grant from the N.H. Public Utilities Commission to pay for the project. Peterborough will buy the electricity the solar array generates for 8 cents per kilowatt hour, saving Peterborough at least $25,000 each year.
Anderson, Harrison and Reed told Kuster the tax credit Borrego received incentivized the corporation to pay for the solar array.
Harrison, a former Borrego employee, said the credit was instrumental in the firm receiving the grant from the PUC. “Otherwise, we couldn’t fund the project,” he said. The 30-percent tax credit will provide the owner of Peterborough’s solar array about $780,000 in tax credits, according to Anderson.
“This is one of the most important policy deployments of solar,” Anderson told the Ledger-Transcript before the round table. Anderson said ITC contributed to solar installation across the U.S. growing by over 1,600 percent since the program began in 2006.
“The 20-percent reduction could sideline projects like these,” Anderson later wrote in an email.
Kuster said she will support extending the program. She and her senior legislative assistant, Derek Terrey, added that when legislation like ITC is close to expiring, it often appears as if Congress won’t renew the program, but that is not necessarily the case.
Throughout the morning, Kuster emphasized how renewable energy can bolster New Hampshire’s economy. Kuster was thrilled to learn 127 Borrego employees are involved in building Peterborough’s solar array field. This is in addition to 12 construction workers from Mathewson Company of Hancock and 30 electricians from Grace Electric in Jaffrey also working at the site.
After speaking with Froling Energy President Mark Froling, Kuster expressed enthusiasm about the growth of timber and renewable energy industries.
Froling Energy installed more than 150 biomass boilers throughout New Hampshire and Vermont, including one at the Peterborough Town House, New England Wood Pellet in Jaffrey and the Dublin School.
In the afternoon, the N.H. House voted 219-161 to take more than $51 million from the Renewable Energy Fund, which financed the solar array project and a rebate program for biomass boilers, such as that in the Peterborough Community Center. Anderson and Nicole MacStay, Peterborough’s assistant town administrator, say the result of the vote is “terrible news.”
The drop in this tax credit could also impact not only Borrego, but also the region, since area towns and school districts are working to replicate Peterborough’s solar array field.
Borrego is collaborating with Jaffrey to build a 995,500-kilowatt solar array at the former Jaffrey landfill. Borrego Solar is seeking a $1.1 million grant from the PUC to partially pay for construction. Borrego Solar would own and operate the solar array field, and sell the electricity to Jaffrey.
Peterborough Director of Public Works Rodney Bartlett and Borrego told Kuster they are interested in expanding the Peterborough solar array by at least another megawatt.
Several towns and school districts formed the Monadnock Buying Collaborative Regional Photovoltaic Project to build a 1-megawatt solar array shared by the members, which include Francestown, Temple, Hancock, Peterborough, the Jaffrey-Rindge Cooperative School District, Jaffrey, Dublin, Swanzey and Rindge. The Monadnock Buying Collaborative is projected to cost up to $2,637,000 to build. The proposal seeks half of the funds for construction through a PUC grant, while a power-purchasing agreement between the operator of the solar array and the member towns would pay for the other half. Although Monadnock Buying Collaborative submitted the proposal to the PUC, Borrego Solar would be involved in the development and engineering of the project.