A closer look at RGGI's bill-cutting, job-creating benefits in NH, NY & NJ

What if there were a mechanism that could help you save money, cut back on pollution, and create jobs all at the same time? Would you jump at the chance to use it?

I would. And a few years back, 10 forward-thinking East Coast governors who set up the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative did. The program, embraced by 10 Northeastern and Mid-Atlantic states, reduces power-plant pollution by setting a limit on how much is allowed and then requiring power plants to pay for the air pollution they create. More than 80 percent of RGGI’s revenue has been invested in energy efficiency, renewable energy, and job training.

The program has been in effect for two years. And a new report out today details the many benefits it has generated in just that short time. Let’s take a closer look at what these benefits look like on the ground. Here’s a snapshot of just three participating states – New Hampshire, New York and New Jersey:

In New Hampshire, the case for RGGI is so persuasive that some of the state legislators who have proposed withdrawing from the regional compact – under pressure from the Koch Brothers oil firm, currently operating under the banner of Americans for Prosperity – owe their constituents an explanation and a careful examination of the program’s advantages. (They should check out this University of New Hampshire report, too, which also shows just how much of a boon RGGI can offer the Granite State.)

So far New Hampshire has generated more than $24.4 million from RGGI for clean energy projects across the state. For example, this is allowing the small rural town of Temple (pop. 1560), located in the Monadnock region, to save an estimated 75-85 percent on the heating bill for its municipal building/fire house this year. That’s thanks to RGGI-funded energy-efficiency upgrades, which will also reduce climate-change pollution by an equivalent amount. “It’s pretty wonderful for our taxpayers,” says Bev Edwards, chair of Temple’s energy committee. RGGI has also provided energy efficiency upgrades to the town’s library and weatherized the homes of 11 low-income residents, with another three in the works. “Without RGGI, it’s unlikely any of this would have been possible,” Edwards says.

Similarly, the state’s Plainfield Elementary School used a RGGI-funded energy benchmarking program as a springboard to greater energy efficiency, cutting its heating oil use almost in half and its electric use by more than 20 percent. “That’s not even counting the effect of the work we did this summer in seven classrooms,” notes Allan Ferguson, a member of the school’s facilities committee.

New York has generated almost $172 million for clean energy projects in the state. This has gone toward projects like the Green Jobs-Green New York program, which provides detailed energy audits for low-income homeowners and renters. Using the data collected in these audits, homeowners can then apply for low-interest loans for property upgrades that can help lower their energy bills and cut their pollution output This program can save enough electricity to power nearly 59,000 homes for a year, cut residents energy costs by an estimated $600 million, and support training programs for 6,000 workers.

Through the EmPower New York program, which is investing $3 million of RGGI proceeds to help 700 low-income households cut energy costs, a family in Watertown has been able to make energy efficiency upgrades to their home, including insulating their attic, sealing doorways and installing a programmable thermostat. In addition to making their home quieter and less drafty, the family is estimated to save $730 a year in energy costs.

In New Jersey, RGGI has generated nearly $52 million for clean energy projects. Among other things, this helping the state’s offshore wind industry get up and spinning. Using RGGI funding, the state will make financial assistance and tax credits available to businesses involved in qualified offshore wind projects that are in development in state waters, through the state’s Offshore Wind Economic Development Act. “Developing New Jersey’s renewable energy resources and industry is critical to our state’s manufacturing and technology future,” Governor Christie wisely noted at the bill’s signing in August. That’s because, as other states along the East Coast are noticing, the states that develop offshore wind farms in their backyards will not only create direct jobs for their residents, they will attract new, supporting industries to settle there and create more.

RGGI funds are also supporting New Jersey’s Clean Energy Solutions Capital Investment Loan/Grant Program, which provides zero-interest loans and grants for large-scale energy efficiency and renewable energy projects. So far, 12 projects have received nearly $30 million for projects that will create enough electricity to meet the annual electricity needs of more than 19,600 New Jersey homes. And they’ll save 1.7 million tons of climate-change pollution over their lifetimes – the equivalent of taking more than 325,000 cars off the road.

Governors nationwide (especially those in the West and Midwest whose states’ plans for similar climate compacts have stalled) should take note of what these trail-blazing 10 states have accomplished. They too can create jobs, lower residents’ energy bills, and clean the air, all without charging taxpayers a cent. RGGI is showing them how it’s done.