On or before March 1, 2011, nonresidential renewable projects in New Hampshire will have their first opportunity to compete for grants from the Renewable Energy Fund established under the state’s Renewable Portfolio Standards law. Pursuant to the passage of House Bill 1270 in July 2010, the Public Utilities Commission must issue a request for proposals no later than March 1, 2011 and annually thereafter, and select winning projects in a timely manner.
This forthcoming request for proposals (RFP) represents the first time in the history of New Hampshire’s Renewable Portfolio Standards law (RPS law) that all commercial and industrial sited renewable energy projects, existing electricity generators, and developers of new commercial-scale renewable generation in the state can seek financial support from the Renewable Energy Fund (REF), in this case on a competitive basis. Of course, RFPs are not a new concept to New Hampshire. In fact, they have been the sole means of allocating grants from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) Fund, a Fund that has provided over $25 million to energy efficiency initiatives. Thus, the state’s experience with those RFPs should help with the upcoming RFP for renewable projects, and could even lead to opportunities for further streamlining the RFP process.
One of the purposes of House Bill 1270 was to clarify and ensure that all types of renewable energy, including resources such as wind, hydro, biomass, and solar, have an equal opportunity to compete for funds through an RFP process. It is critical to have an open, transparent and competitive approach to allocating money from the REF, and an RFP will cast the widest possible net for technologies and allow the private sector to put forth innovative proposals that maximize use of the Renewable Energy Fund.
Another purpose of House Bill 1270 was to clarify and ensure that both the residential and nonresidential sectors receive a balanced allocation of funding from the REF. REF-funded rebates for homeowners became available beginning in mid-2009 for installations of solar and wind systems. As of November 2010, homeowners had received approximately $2.9 million in rebates, predominantly for solar projects. On the other hand, REF-funded rebates for businesses installing solar PV and solar thermal just became available in November 2010 through a Commercial & Industrial Solar Rebate Program. Funding for this program is initially limited to a million dollars, pursuant to a Public Utilities Commission (PUC) Order issued on October 1, 2010.
The PUC has also allocated one million dollars to the RFP pursuant to the same Order. The RFP will be open to nonresidential renewable technologies including wind, hydro, and wood, as well as solar above 100 kilowatts. (Installations of 100 kilowatts or less are eligible to benefit from the REF through the C&I Solar Rebate Program referenced above.) The PUC is still developing the RFP and considering which criteria should be used to evaluate and rate each proposal. At a recent informal meeting held by the PUC Staff with stakeholders, there was interest in making cost-effectiveness a key criterion and one that would be given significant weight in the rating process. Other criteria will include considerations listed in section 2507.03 of the PUC’s 2500 rules. These considerations include economic development benefits, environmental benefits, innovation, and leveraging of Fund dollars.
The forthcoming RFP is a critical opportunity to ensure that all technologies and all participants have the same opportunities to compete for REF money, and that ratepayers’ hard-earned dollars are being spent in the most cost-effective ways possible as New Hampshire works to achieve its renewable energy goals.