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Gov. Sununu vetoes bills backing biomass, solar development

New Hampshire Union Leader

June 19. 2018 11:10PM
The Burgess BioPower plant in Berlin. (JOHN KOZIOL/CORRESPONDENT FILE)

CONCORD — Gov. Chris Sununu vetoed two energy-related bills designed to subsidize development of biomass and solar energy, citing their expected cost and stating they’d send New Hampshire “in exactly the wrong direction.”

Critics of the move say it will cost jobs and economic opportunities, particularly in the North Country.

Senate Bill 365 would require Eversource and other distribution utilities to pay above-market rates to the state’s six biomass (wood-burning) power plants, the cost of which is passed along to consumers in their electric bills.

Senate Bill 446 would expand the state’s net metering program, which forces utilities to buy electricity from solar energy generators at above-wholesale rates, to large-scale solar projects. The bill would have raised qualifying net meter solar projects from 1 megawatt to 5 megawatts.

In his veto statement on Tuesday, Sununu said the two bills would cost Granite State ratepayers approximately $100 million over the next three years in higher electricity costs, placing a strain on the elderly, those on fixed incomes and businesses.

Sununu said SB 365 would create an immense subsidy for the state’s six biomass plants but would not guarantee their solvency and would only generate a 3.5 percent revenue increase for wood suppliers while costing ratepayers an estimated $25 million over three years.

He said SB 446 would be a handout to large-scale solar energy developers while costing ratepayers an estimated $5 million to $10 million per year.

“These immense projects should use incentives already available and compete on their own merits,” Sununu said in a statement.

The vetoes are consistent with Sununu’s recently released energy policy, which places reducing rates above developing renewables as a policy goal.

House Democratic Leader Steve Shurtleff, D-Penacook, said both bills received bipartisan support and called them “two pieces of legislation vitally important to jobs and energy production in New Hampshire.”

“As the legislature learned through considerable testimony, the governor’s decision to block SB 365 will cripple the biomass industry and jeopardize hundreds of forest industry jobs across the state, particularly in the North Country,” he said.

“The veto of SB 446, which credits homeowners and municipalities for excess energy produced through home generation, will discourage Granite Staters from utilizing the renewable small-system generators that reduce consumption of commercially produced power from out-of-state.”

Senate Majority Leader Jeb Bradley, R-Wolfeboro, a main sponsor of the biomass bill, said one of the six biomass plants has already shuttered and the owners of other plants testified in Concord that they will close should SB 365 fail.

“As many as 900 jobs of hard-working men and women in the North Country are likely to be lost as well as the loss of $250 million of annual economic activity these biomass plants represent,” he said. “Not only will the veto of SB 365 have a devastating impact on families and small businesses, but the ripple effect of this job loss will impact state revenues and potentially the unemployment trust fund.”

Critics of the veto said it offers insignificant and temporary savings to electric ratepayers, at significant cost to New Hampshire’s forest industry and renewable energy sector.

“This veto has a serious negative impact on our indigenous energy resources including solar, small hydropower, and wood-fired cogeneration; local sources of energy that keep dollars, jobs, and economic activity in-state and have proven to lower grid-wide energy costs for all ratepayers,” said Ted Vansant, board chairman for the New Hampshire Sustainable Energy Association.

The statewide Business and Industry Association endorsed Sununu’s decision.

“Governor Sununu’s vetoes of SB 365 and SB 446 serve as an appropriate admonishment to lawmakers who have not taken New Hampshire’s and the region’s energy predicament seriously,” said BIA President Jim Roche. “Further burdening all ratepayers, including manufacturers who drive the state’s economy, by excessively subsidizing select energy generators is poor public policy. The Governor’s vetoes are a needed course correction.”

The New England Ratepayers Association, Josiah Bartlett Center for Public Policy, the Right of Center Coalition and Americans for Prosperity also issued statements of support.

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