Column: Three Bills That Support N.H. Jobs, Forests, Tax Revenues and Energy Independence

To the Valley News
Wednesday, June 06, 2018

Within the next week or two, three renewable energy bills — Senate bills 365, 577, and 446 — will reach New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu’s desk. All of these bills were passed by the state Legislature with strong bipartisan support, and the governor will have five days, once the bills land on his desk, to sign the bills into law, veto them, or allow them to become law without his signature.

These bills will support thousands of jobs and the hundreds of millions of dollars contributed annually by biomass and small hydroelectric energy projects to the New Hampshire economy, not to mention the benefits to our environment and natural resources.

The seven biomass plants covered in SB 365 and SB 577 generate more than $317 million in annual economic activity, while SB 446 would make it more attractive to expand existing renewable energy projects, or install new ones, whether they be hydro, solar or wind, which will help us reduce our dependence on fossil fuels and the price volatility associated with them while reducing our impact on the environment.

Specifically, SB 365 will require the state’s utilities to purchase power from New Hampshire’s six independent biomass power plants based on an auction rate.

SB 577 makes a three-year modified contract between Burgess BioPower and Eversource; the original contract was approved by the N.H. Public Utilities Commission. (This power plant is one of the largest markets for low-grade timber in the state, and it has a unique power sale contract regulated by the NHPUC.)

And SB 446 increases the allowable size of an electric generation project that a business, school or municipality can use to self-generate power (aka “net meter”) to 5 megawatts and sets the electricity sale and purchase pricing to avoid cost-shifting.

These bills are not just about energy. They are also about supporting the state’s forest products industry, forestland owners, tourism and outdoor recreation industry; they are about providing businesses more opportunity to control their power costs. In short, these bills are about harnessing New Hampshire’s own resources to support New Hampshire’s businesses, economy, tourism and recreational resources while contributing to our own energy independence.

Our biomass and hydro power plants are also about state and local revenue and economic activity. Forest products businesses, timberland owners and hydro power plant owners contribute millions of dollars in property taxes to hundreds of towns each year. These taxes include property taxes on our manufacturing facilities, our small hydroelectric dams and our timberland.

Forestland owners, foresters and loggers also pay timber and fuel taxes when we have a biomass (wood chip) harvest.

New Hampshire’s wood products and paper manufacturing businesses employ 3,096 people. Senate Bill 446’s expansion of opportunities for these businesses to produce their own power will help make them more competitive. Our timberlands also support forestry jobs every time we have a timber harvest. Every year, thousands of timber harvests with biomass chipping occur across the state, from Pittsburg to Hinsdale to Portsmouth — to every county, township and community in the state. In addition to the jobs in the businesses supported by SB 446, the biomass power plants supported by SB 365 and SB 577 provide approximately 1,150 jobs

These bills also support healthy forests and outdoor recreation (and remember, healthy forests mean clean water and clean air). Seventy-six percent of New Hampshire’s forests are owned by private landowners like us — and it’s worth noting that New Hampshire is the second-most forested state in the country. Most of these lands are open for hiking, hunting, fishing and snowmobiling. Forest recreation annually generates $1.4 billion a year in economic activity and supports 10,800 jobs.

Landowners are not paid to open their lands to recreation, so for private landowners to afford to conduct sustainable forestry and hold their land, keeping it open for recreation, we need timber and biomass markets. Moreover, without markets for timber and biomass, many landowners will be forced to look at other real estate options, including subdividing their land for houses instead of growing trees.

Lastly, these bills help steer New Hampshire toward energy independence. Our state has no oil and gas reserves, so we are vulnerable to price swings in oil and natural gas markets. Our small hydroelectric dams and the state’s biomass power plants provide fuel diversity and thus a cushion against volatile fossil-fuel energy markets.

Best of all, these power plants provide locally sourced power. To lose these power plants is not only to lose those electrons, it is to lose a major economic and environmental driver of what makes New Hampshire special. We are a place where you can still work the land, enjoy the fruits of your labor, and contribute to your local community. Senate bills 365, 577 and 446 will help keep these things true.

We urge the governor to consider the broader implications when contemplating SB 365, SB 577 and SB 446. These bills comprise good policy for our state and need to become law.

Tom Thomson, of Orford, is a tree farmer and forestland owner. Richard Verney is chairman and CEO of Monadnock Paper Mills Inc. Steven French is president of Abenaki Timber Corp./SFR Hydro Inc.