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Local businessmen weigh in on proposed energy cuts

  • Mark Froling, president of Froling Energy, speaks at a town hall with Congresswoman Annie Kuster in Peterborough last week.  Staff photo by Ashley Saari



Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Tuesday, June 13, 2017

The current federal stance on climate change, clean energy and energy regulations has local renewable suppliers concerned.

Last week, Mark Froling, president of Froling Energy in Peterborough, which installs biomass systems, and Greg Blake, owner of South Pack Solar in Peterborough, both spoke at a town hall with Congresswoman Annie Kuster about the potential impacts of the currently proposed federal budget, which could have wider implications for the renewable energy industry.

“Obviously, I have a lot of fears about the current administration,” said Froling. “My sense is that none of the decisions from the current administration will benefit us at all.”

President Donald Trump’s proposed plan for the 2018 budget includes deep cuts to the Environmental Protection Agency, including cutting the budget by a third, reducing its funding to $5.6 billion, which would cut the EPA workforce by 20 percent. There are also proposed cuts to the EPA’s enforcement office, and grants that allow states to do that enforcement. There are also cuts directed to environmental-science programs, particularly those targeting climate change, cutting $59 million in Earth-science research grants from NASA and one-fifth of the budget of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s research office.

Whether this budget will become a reality is questionable. In early March, Trump’s proposed budget which had similarly deep cuts to the EPA didn’t make it through Congress, and ultimately, after negotiations and amendments ultimately the EPA’s budget was only cut by 1 percent, and renewable energy research funding was actually increased by $15 million – originally, it was proposed to be cut altogether.

While Froling finds these proposed cuts unsettling, he said, the biomass industry in New England is more centered around local initiatives than federal ones. 

Federal tax incentives or subsidies for biomass installations are minor. While competition based on fossil fuels may be invigorated by changes such as a loosening of emission restrictions, making the production of oil boilers less expensive, Froling doesn’t expect that biomass will get more or less expensive.

That’s because biomass installations, if relying on subsidies, do so through the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, or RGGI, where states sell carbon dioxide emission allowances, and the profits are used to subsidize energy efficiency, renewable energy, and other consumer benefit programs. RGGI isn’t a federal program – it’s a regional cooperative effort involving Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island, and Vermont. 

Biomass may be less attractive for federal subsidies because it’s not an attractive option in areas that aren’t heavily wooded, such as the midwestern states, said Froling. But in New England, where wood sources are plentiful, it’s a good option. In fact, as the state is replacing heating options once provided by the now-defunct Concord Steam, the state has vowed to replace 10 percent with biomass. Though the contract for those installations hasn’t been awarded yet, Froling Energy hopes to be able to install those biomass systems as a subcontractor for one of the bidders.

Solar installations are more reliant on federal subsidies – most particularly tax credits that can cover up to 30 percent of the cost of a system. However, those credits are in place until 2021, steadily decreasing in percentage until it reaches 10 percent. 

 

Ashley Saari can be reached at 924-7172 ext. 244 or asaari@ledgertranscript.com. She’s on Twitter @AshleySaariMLT.