Veto undercuts efforts in North Country

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 8/5/2019 10:17:17 PM

WEST LEBANON — Gov. Chris Sununu’s veto of a bill to boost woodchip-burning electricity plants in New Hampshire is drawing criticism from North Country supporters who said it will harm the state’s forestry industry.

Sununu on Friday vetoed HB183, which would establish a committee to study the use of power “microgrids” and also would require power companies such as Eversource to buy renewable generation credits from biomass facilities in their service territories.

Sununu said the subsidy geared to help six biomass plants that are now mainly shuttered, including in Bridgewater and Alexandria in Grafton County, would cost ratepayers about $20 million a year in higher energy costs over the next three years.

“This bill picks winners and losers in a competitive energy market,” Sununu, a Republican, said in his veto message. “Furthermore, it harms our most vulnerable citizens for the benefit of a select few.”

The veto was applauded by the Business and Industry Association of New Hampshire.

“While well-intentioned, this legislation would hurt New Hampshire businesses and residential ratepayers alike,” BIA President Jim Roche said in a statement on Monday. “Policy makers simply can’t implement laws that make energy more expensive at a time when electricity prices in New Hampshire are 50-60% higher than the national average year-round.”

But state Sen. Bob Giuda, a Haverhill-area Republican who co-sponsored the bill, said the bill would only have cost residential ratepayers a dollar or two per month but would help the forestry industry and also help New Hampshire move to more localized, self-sustainable power grids.

“It’s not going to bankrupt anyone, but (the veto) is really going to cause havoc up here,” Giuda said.

“Yes, it’s older technology, but it’s native technology,” he said of the chip-burning plants.

And Orford tree farmer Tom Thomson, who has helped organize support for the biomass subsidies, said the wood-chip plants provide a critical market for low-grade wood from timber owners, and that those landowners already do a tremendous amount for the New Hampshire economy by keeping millions of acres open to the public for snowmobiling, hunting and other recreational activity.

Thomson and others were also frustrated that implementation of a biomass subsidy bill passed last year despite a Sununu veto then, as well, has been delayed because it’s snarled in a federal appeal, with opponents claiming the state can’t interfere with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s jurisdiction in the wholesale power market. The new bill Sununu just vetoed is designed to get around the federal “preemption” argument because it deals with credits.

“I’m really annoyed that we’re here a year later going through the same damn thing,” said Thomson, a Republican who has long warned that he might stop growing trees and instead will farm-out house lots if the biomass industry isn’t propped up. Indeed, he said he now plans to put an 11.5-to-12-acre lot carved out of his tree farm on Mount Cube in Orford up for sale next week as a result of the veto.

“I don’t want to do it, but I’ve warned long enough, and I’m going to start doing it,” Thomson said.

It is possible that Sununu’s veto on this measure could also be overridden, but the vote, if held next month, could be tight.

While the legislation sailed through the Senate on a voice vote earlier this year, it passed the House on a 222-123 vote in June, about 2 percentage points short of the two-thirds majority needed to override a veto.

John P. Gregg can be reached at jgregg@vnews.com or 603-727-3217.




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