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Energy at Issue in N.H. Governor Race as Democrats Tout Bona Fides

  • Hanover Town Manager Julia Griffin, middle, and Hanover Sustainability Director April Salas, left, visited the town's municipal water facility to show Democratic gubernatorial candidate Molly Kelly, of Harrisville, N.H., potential sites for large scale solar installations Tuesday, July 31, 2018. The town has put plans for the solar panels on hold since an increase in logging cost caused by the closure of two New Hampshire biomass power plants that would have processed wood cleared from the sites. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.



Valley News Staff Writer
Wednesday, August 01, 2018

Hanover — Democratic gubernatorial candidate Molly Kelly said on Tuesday that lawmakers should eliminate the state cap on net metering, which could open the door to large-scale solar projects in the Granite State.

Kelly, a former five-term state senator from Harrisville, also lamented Gov. Chris Sununu’s June veto of two energy bills aimed at increasing solar power and funding New Hampshire’s biomass plants.

“What we need to do is wean ourselves off fossil fuels,” Kelly said during a tour of Hanover’s water treatment facility. “We know that (renewable energy) produces clean energy, clean air, clean water and it is necessary for our future to go there.”

Kelly was joined at the facility by Town Manager Julia Griffin, who said the governor’s action delayed efforts to install ground-mounted solar panels there.

Hanover had hoped to clear two acres of forest abutting the town-owned site for a community solar installation, she said, but such a project is likely too expensive now.

Sununu vetoed a bipartisan bill that would have required utilities to purchase power from the state’s biomass plants, calling the legislation an “immense subsidy” for the industry.

On the same day, he vetoed another bill that sought to expand net metering, a program that allows solar power generators to get credits for the energy they send back to the grid. The first-term Republican argued both bills would have cost residents and businesses $110 million over three years.

Since the veto, three biomass power companies have announced temporary or permanent closings.

“Literally within 24 hours, when the two pulp plants had closed, our logger informed us that the price tag had gone up,” Griffin told Kelly.

Since Hanover had planned to trade its lumber for a forester’s labor, it hadn’t budgeted money for the project, she said. Now, officials might be looking for $30,000 to cover the expense at next year’s Town Meeting.

“We have a lot of residents who want to buy green power but they’d really love us to be making a statement right here in our own community,” Griffin said, adding the cap on net metering also hampers the solar project because of its overall size.

Kelly responded by commending Hanover’s renewable energy efforts, saying she would advocate for similar action on a statewide scale.

“This is about job growth, this is about lowering our energy costs, and it is really about promoting the kind of ideas and projects you have so that the state will be powered by renewable energy,” she said.

Kelly’s trip to Hanover came one day after her primary opponent, former Portsmouth Mayor Steve Marchand, announced a detailed energy policy that calls for New Hampshire to increase its investment in renewable fuels and modernize the electric grid.

Marchand also supports eliminating the net metering cap, and argues that Sununu’s veto threatens most of the state’s biomass plants.

“This is not the time to go small (on energy),” Marchand said in a phone interview on Tuesday. “This is a time to be thoughtful, to be bold, to go big and to lead.”

Kelly declined on Tuesday to issue an in-depth energy policy akin to Marchand’s, saying her positions are known to New Hampshire voters.

“I feel like I’m being very clear about where I’m going . I think the other thing is that my experience speaks for itself,” she said. “You can talk about plans but you also can look at ‘What have you done to move it forward?’ ”

Marchand countered that Kelly’s record, although supportive of renewable energy, made too little progress toward diversifying the state’s renewable energy portfolio. Kelly was the prime sponsor of a 2013 bill that established net metering.

“Molly touts as her biggest legislative accomplishment the unanimous passage of a net metering bill whose impact has been one half of one percent of our electricity coming from solar in New Hampshire,” he said. “Meanwhile, Vermont is at 10 percent and Massachusetts is at 8 percent and growing rapidly.”

Marchand also reiterated his opposition to Granite Bridge, a natural gas pipeline proposed by Liberty Utilities to run through eight southern New Hampshire communities starting in Stratham and ending in Manchester.

New England relies greatly on natural gas to power its electric grid, with about 64 percent of the region’s power generated by the fossil fuel, according to ISO New England, a nonprofit that manages the grid. By comparison, renewable energy accounts for about 6 percent of the region’s electricity.

“We need to be diversifying and localizing our (energy) sources, not doubling down on natural gas,” he said. “Natural gas moves us away from the clean energy future that we need to pursue.”

While Kelly also supports the state using less natural gas, she declined to take a stance on Granite Bridge or similar pipeline projects.

“You need to really give a lot of thought, understanding, research to these issues before you just jump and make a decision,” Kelly said, adding she wouldn’t support a project that significantly increased the region’s carbon footprint or is deemed unsafe.

The state’s Democratic primary is scheduled for Sept. 11, with the winner going on to face Sununu in the general election, which will take place on Nov. 6.

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