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N.H. Hopes Regional Pact Meets Criteria

Concord — State officials are hopeful that New Hampshire’s participation in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative will help fulfill the newly proposed carbon emission reductions laid out by the Environmental Protection Agency yesterday.

“That is our hope and assumption, that simply by participating in RGGI we will be meeting the federal requirement,” said Mike Fitzgerald of the state’s Department of Environmental Services, tasked with creating New Hampshire’s compliance plan. “Based on the information available today, that is what seems to be in the rule,” he said.

In 2009, New Hampshire joined RGGI, a regional cap-and-trade program made up of nine member states across the Northeast and along the East Coast. Under the initiative, fossil-fuel-burning power plants have to purchase a RGGI-issued allowance for each ton of carbon dioxide that they emit. Earnings from the auctions are invested in energy efficiency programs. Currently, RGGI sets its overall cap on emissions at 91 million tons. But, that number decreases by 2.5 percent each year until 2020.

By 2030, the overarching goal of the newly proposed EPA rule is to cut carbon emissions nationwide by 30 percent from 2005 levels. To achieve that, the EPA outlined specific emission rate targets for each individual state to reach. The proposal allows the states to work toward those goals individually or in regional groups.

For New Hampshire, the proposed state-specific target is set at 486 pounds of CO2 emissions per megawatt-hour of electricity generation, a roughly 46 percent reduction from the state’s 2012 rate: 905 lbs per megawatt-hour, according to the EPA.

The next step for the state’s Department of Environmental Services is to figure out how the proposed EPA emissions rate translates into the overall emissions cap set by RGGI. And then, the DES will need to work out whether the goal will be a combined target for the initiative’s nine members to reach or whether the goals will vary by state, said Director of DES Air Resources Division Craig Wright.

“We need to match up what we’re doing with what the EPA is proposing,” Wright said. “It would be New Hampshire’s strategy, if possible, to continue to use RGGI.”

In addition to setting state goals, the proposed EPA rule also outlines several options for states to achieve them. The glue that holds the proposal together is that each state’s target is tailored to match its circumstances and the states have flexibility to reduce their carbon emissions in ways that work best for them, said EPA Administrator Gina McCarty during an announcement on Monday. “Each state is different, so each goal and each path can be different,” she said.

According to EPA fact sheets, states can use energy efficiency programs, renewable energy standards, efficiency improvements at plants, switching to natural gas or several other options in their carbon emissions reduction plans.

Wright said New Hampshire is already doing some of those, in addition to RGGI, including renewable programs, investing in energy efficiency and developing a state energy strategy, the final draft of which is due in September.

“We are kind of taking an all-in approach,” Fitzgerald said.

New Hampshire is well-positioned to achieve and go beyond the new EPA proposal, said Christophe Courchesne of the Conservation Law Foundation, but the state can’t rest on its laurels.

“EPA’s proposal is just the latest signal that we can and must embrace a cleaner and better future where we no longer burn rocks in polluting power plants to power our homes and businesses,” he said in an email.

The proposed rule targets carbon emissions from fossil-fuel-burning plants. New Hampshire is home to five. Public Service of New Hampshire owns and operates two coal-fired plants — Merrimack Station in Bow and Schiller Station on the Seacoast. PSNH Newington, EP Newington and Granite Ridge Londonderry are the three plants in the state that primarily burn natural gas.

The new rule most likely doesn’t put any additional requirements on those plants other than meeting RGGI standards, Fitzgerald said. “If complying with RGGI is going to be OK with the federal rule, the plants will continue to operate as they do today by buying RGGI allowances for whatever they emit,” he said.

Overall, New Hampshire accounts for about 5 percent of total emissions from the nine-state RGGI region. In 2009, the state’s five fossil-fuel-burning facilities emitted approximately 6.3 million tons of CO2, Wright said. In 2013 emissions were approximately 4.2 million tons of CO2.

That drop is due to many factors, RGGI in part and also from a boom in natural gas. Plants that burn natural gas release about half the carbon emissions of a coal plant, Fitzgerald said.

Between 2005 and 2013, carbon emissions from PSNH’s power plant fleet in 2013 dropped 70 percent, said company spokesman Martin Murrey in an email.

“Given the current energy supply crisis in New England, it may be challenging to grow our success,” he said.

Going forward, the RGGI states will review the rule and likely put together collective comments to file with the EPA during the 120-day comment period, Wright said.

“Today is the opening salvo,” Fitzgerald said.

The EPA has one year to finalize the rule, which will likely face lawsuits, before the states have to submit their compliance plans.

“The first step is good,” Wright said. “A reduction anywhere, is a reduction everywhere.”