Democrats rail against biomass shutdown at Springfield power plant

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 11/20/2019 9:57:04 PM

SPRINGFIELD, N.H. — A group of Upper Valley Democrats on Wednesday lamented the closing of a biomass power plant in Springfield, saying its loss will harm New Hampshire’s timber industry and deprive foresters of a reliable source of income.

Standing outside the Springfield Power plant near Interstate 89, the three lawmakers and a candidate for state Senate laid blame on Republican Gov. Chris Sununu, who vetoed a bill in August that would have required utilities to buy renewable generation credits from biomass facilities.

“Sununu’s veto made abundantly clear where his priorities lie. Not with the laid-off workers or promoting local renewable energy sources but with safeguarding the interest of large, corporate special needs,” state Rep. Lee Oxenham, D-Plainfield, said during an event organized by the New Hampshire Democratic Party.

She was joined by state Reps. Brian Sullivan, of Grantham, and Linda Tanner, of Georges Mills, as well as Jenn Alford-Teaster, a Sutton Democrat again running for a Newport-area Senate seat.

Mount Laurel, N.J.-based EWP Renewable Corp., a unit of South Korea-based Korea East-West Power Co., announced its intention to close the Springfield plant last month. The company also plans to close a sister plant in Whitefield, N.H., letting about 20 workers go at each location, officials at the New Hampshire Timberland Owners Association said at the time.

Sununu has argued that the bill he vetoed would have provided subsidies costing New Hampshire electric customers $20 million a year, harming “our most vulnerable citizens for the benefit of a few.” He also took issue with using ratepayer money to save the biomass, or woodchip, industry, saying in a statement that such action amounts to “picking winners and losers in a competitive energy market.”

“Governor Sununu will not apologize for standing up for low-income families and seniors on fixed incomes who would have seen their electric bills skyrocket if this legislation passed, putting ratepayers on the hook for $60 million over three years,” Ben Vihstadt, the governor’s spokesman, said in an email on Wednesday.

Vihstadt went on to say that state officials responded to the biomass plants “within days” of the closing announcement to offer “state funding for job training and community college courses to learn new skills, unemployment benefits through Employment Security and information on employment opportunities in their areas.”

State Rep. Steven Smith, R-Charlestown, on Wednesday called the biomass bill “particularly frustrating.” The bill’s sponsors refused to consider alternative sources of funding for the subsidies, he said, effectively forcing lawmakers to choose between electric customers and timber workers.

“I’ve got people living in mobile home parks that can’t afford their electric bills now. They’re on a fixed income,” Smith, who voted to sustain Sununu’s veto, said via phone. “If (lawmakers) had taken money from anywhere else, that plant would be open today.”

However, Alford-Teaster said she’s seen the impact of Sununu’s veto in her Sutton, N.H., neighborhood, where foresters have just finished work.

“There’s a tremendous amount of slash that’s left over and there’s nothing to do with it,” she said.

Alford-Teaster is again challenging two-term state Sen. Ruth Ward, R-Stoddard, in a 24-town district that includes the Newport area and Springfield.

Ward, who supported the biomass bill, said she would have voted to override the governor’s veto, had the measure come before the Senate.

“I think we need to look at the whole issue of biomass, alternative energy and do it in a way that helps people instead of destroying jobs for them,” Ward said in a phone interview.

The subsidies will likely be debated again next year. A group of six Democratic lawmakers is co-sponsoring legislation that would reintroduce the payments.

Tim Camerato can be reached at tcamerato@vnews.com or 603-727-3223.




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