Forum, May 19: This is what ratepayer advocates do

Saturday, May 18, 2019
This is what ratepayer advocates do

As New Hampshire’s ratepayer advocate, I write to take respectful exception to an assertion in your recent article about the closure of Springfield Power (“Even after victory in Statehouse biomass battle, Springfield, N.H., power plant goes idle,” May 11, 2019).

To both me and the state’s electric utilities you attributed the sentiment that last year’s biomass subsidy bill “amounts to a lawmaker-imposed subsidy of an antiquated, minor contributor of electric power that can’t compete with cheaper and more efficient sources of power generated by hydro and natural gas.”

I have said no such thing. To the contrary, I have repeatedly stated that it’s up to the General Court, which is politically accountable, to make policy choices on economic development matters. Last year, I merely asked legislators to keep in mind that when we require utilities to buy power from the Springfield facility and its five non-mothballed counterparts around the state at prices well above the prevailing market rates, 100 percent of the bill goes to electric ratepayers.

Then my office joined a legal challenge to this requirement, filed with federal regulators by the New England Ratepayers Association. We did that not because we think New Hampshire’s forest products industry doesn’t need help — it surely does — but because the required above-market power purchases clearly violate certain provisions of the Federal Power Act that protect ratepayers.

Now that the proposed solution has shifted from energy purchases to required purchases of a newly invented product known as “baseload renewable generation credits,” I have again asked lawmakers to keep in mind that the bill for such a public policy choice will go to utility customers.

If “baseload renewable generation credits” become law this session, I won’t second-guess the policy determination of the General Court to prioritize jobs over lower electric rates in this instance. At the same time, I hope lawmakers won’t question my obligation to scrutinize any such enactment on constitutional grounds and seek legal redress as necessary. That’s what ratepayer advocates do.



New Hampshire is failing its kids

Newport schools are in crisis. This year our school tax rate jumped $5 per $1,000. We lose 30% of our teachers every year because we can’t afford competitive salaries. Homeowners can’t afford the high taxes, can’t afford to move, and can’t sell anyway.

The thing is, these aren’t just Newport’s kids — these are New Hampshire’s kids. Towns across the state are in the same boat and the New Hampshire Legislature has agreed this is a crisis. Even our Supreme Court ruled 20 years ago that we must collectively educate our kids. Yet here we are, a generation later, and nothing has been done except bickering between towns over who pays what and who gets to keep theirs. We are the fourth-wealthiest state in the nation. Shame on us.

How can we call ourselves a state if we won’t look after our children? After all, what is a state except a population? The mountains and lakes mean nothing, wealth means nothing, our history means nothing. What does it say about us if we turn our backs on each other when our children are desperately in need? That we are only a collection of towns pitting haves against have nots?

Every elected official, from school boards and legislators to the governor, knows we need equalized, broad-based distribution of education funds. They know how to achieve it, too. So what is holding it up? Are they really so short-sighted and callous as to push the problem into the future while families and whole towns suffer? Shame on them.

It is time to stop talking and put New Hampshire first. Vote for legislation that helps all New Hampshire towns. Make a start, even a small one, that moves us toward fair funding. Convince your constituents this is the right and fair thing to do.

Because of this incessant delaying, every year thousands of children across the state go hungry, poorly educated and grow up wanting to get as far away from New Hampshire as possible. Can we blame them?



Celebrating the Zienzele Foundation

Sometimes we think there is not much we can do to change the lives of those living on the edge. Here is a story that disputes that conclusion.

Twenty years ago, two women shared their distress at the number of children in the Masvingo area of Zimbabwe who were left orphans by the HIV crisis. With little but their public health backgrounds and a generous helping of grit and determination, they founded the Zienzele Foundation. (Zienzele is the Ndebele word for “Do it yourself.”) Their initial focus was on orphans and families headed by children, but one dream inspired another. New projects were started, and more villages became involved in their own revenue-producing projects, such as basket weaving, sewing and community gardens.

In 2000, Zienzele provided for 50 children to continue school. In 2019, that number exceeds 1,000, and the foundation works with women’s co-operatives in 38 communities by creating opportunities to work toward self-reliance. Together they provide families with food staples, household necessities, school fees and school supplies. All of this with only one paid employee.

On Wednesday, founders Nancy Clark and Prisca Nemapare, together with the foundation, will host the 18th annual Zienzele Night Celebration at the Dartmouth Outing Club. The public is welcomed from 5-8 p.m. A donation of $30 is requested, which includes beverages and hors d’oeuves with an African flavor. The Soyeya Dancers and Rockapella Singers will perform, and there will be a silent auction and opportunities to see and buy baskets woven by women in the villages of Zimbabwe. From 4-5 p.m. there will be a virtual “walk around Zimbabwe villages,” which is actually a fundraising walk around Occom Pond, with stops at tables representing different villages and schools affiliated with Zienzele. Call 802-439-6196 or email zienzele@gmail.com for information about participating in the fundraiser.



The writer is a board member of the Zienzele Foundation.