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Higher prices power up new ideas

Brian Nearing | Times Union

COLONIE — When the cost for electric power plants in New York to emit climate-changing greenhouse gases last week remained near an all-time high, it was helping the state to continue support for a mix of energy programs like an innovative hydrogen recycling company in Latham.

Begun in 2009, the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative is the nation’s first state-level greenhouse gas cap-and-trade program. It requires power plants to buy enough state-issued permits to cover emissions of carbon dioxide, which international scientific consensus says is the cause of man-made climate change. States then use the money to encourage energy innovation and conservation.

In the Capital Region, state RGGI funding is helping fuel potential advances in the growing nanotechnology and computer chip manufacturing sector. Last year, Latham-based H2Pump got $1.8 million from RGGI to install five hydrogen recycling units across the state, including one at College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering’s Albany NanoTech Complex, to demonstrate the pump’s viability in chip fabrication and nanotechnology.

Typically, excess hydrogen created for industrial uses is released into the atmosphere. H2Pump technology captures this hydrogen for later reuse. This significantly reduces fuel costs to create, store and transport additional hydrogen.

“This is really opening up a next market for us,” said H2Pump CEO Mark Sperry. “We hope that will lead to the semiconductor industry globally, and to the GlobalFoundries facility, in particular, in the Capital Region.” He said RGGI support has helped the 9-year-old company maintain jobs.

With RGGI support, H2Pump also installed hydrogen units at Rome Strip Steel, a steel-maker in Oneida County and Pall Corp., in Cortland, which makes high-tech filtration, separation and purification equipment.

Last week marked the 25th auction of RGGI credits, with the price of a credit — which allows its owner to release a ton of greenhouse gas — hitting $4.88. That was slightly below the record of $5.02 reached in the previous auction in June.

Related: Pennsylvania board rejects student’s petition to limit greenhouse gases

“We are seeing that the RGGI has staying power,” said Conor Bambrick, an air analyst with Environmental Advocates of New York. “All the available credits were sold, and this provides the state with a stream of revenue that is being reinvested in innovative energy programs.”

There were nearly 18 million credits auctioned last week, which raised $87.8 million for state programs that include including energy efficiency, renewable energy, direct bill assistance, and greenhouse gas abatement. As the largest state in the program, New York received about $35 million in this latest auction.

So far, the program has raised $690 million for the state, and $1.8 billion for all RGGI states. In New York, the state has spent or committed $408 million in RGGI funds, according to a March 2014 report by the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority.

This year, New York and eight other RGGI states pared back the amount of available credits by 45 percent deciding that there were too many credits, which both depressed their price and left many credits unsold.

In four auctions last year, after the credit reduction was announced, prices ranged from $2.80 to $3.21. Between 2010 and 2012, credits were selling at the minimum-allowed price of $1.89, and credits representing millions of tons of greenhouse gases went unsold.

In 2012, a state court rejected an effort to force the state to abandon RGGI by a group tied to conservative Kansas petrochemical billionaires who fund campaigns to deny climate change. The lawsuit had been filed by the Buffalo leader of Americans for Prosperity, a conservative political action group supported by oilmen David and Charles Koch that is linked to the tea party movement.

The program also includes Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie pulled his state out of RGGI in 2011 and faces a lawsuit claiming he illegally bypassed state lawmakers to do so.

 

bnearing@timesunion.com, 518-454-5094

 

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