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Granite State Debates -- Hunter Carbee: Biomass is a foundation of rural NH's economy


In the past year, there has been a lot of talk about the high cost of electricity in New Hampshire. Compared to other regions of the U.S., New England continues to be burdened with some of the most expensive electricity costs to both New Hampshire residents and manufacturing facilities.

We all want lower electricity prices. The challenge is how to achieve that goal in a highly regulated and regionally integrated system. It is very complex.

First, we must look at what we need in our electricity system and what is worth paying for. We need to look at the increasing costs of transmission and distribution. We need to look at the region’s future in energy generation. The House and Senate have already passed legislation to undertake such a study (SB 125.)

What is worth paying for? Things that benefit New Hampshire. We should continue to support the policy of maintaining a diverse portfolio of energy sources. Diversity creates a hedge for when one particular fuel source is unavailable, or its fuel too expensive. Solar, wind, hydroelectric, coal, gas, nuclear and biomass are different sources that are needed to power our energy system.

Some of the sources are renewable like wind, solar, hydro and biomass. Supporting renewable energy sources became a state priority almost a decade ago with the passage of the New Hampshire Renewable Portfolio Standard law. This law has served to ensure diversity of New England’s energy generation while promoting local renewable fuels and resources. Biomass is a unique renewable energy source that serves as a “baseload energy supply.” Distinct from other renewable sources, biomass energy plants run and provide electricity 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Schools, county complexes, greenhouses, and hospitals have switched to biomass to replace fossil fuel heating. Biomass is an energy source that not only produces electricity and heat that we need, but also serves as an important tool in New Hampshire’s overall forest management. Biomass plants now serve as the major market for the state’s low-grade wood.

Today’s biomass plants have invested in expensive, new emission reduction technologies to meet strict New Hampshire air quality standards. It is one area where energy policy intersects with natural resource policy. This enriches the beauty of our state’s forests and lands which in turn, promote benefits to tourism, wildlife habitat, as well as protection from fire, insects and disease. Beyond producing electricity and natural resource benefits, New Hampshire’s biomass industry supports more than 900 local New Hampshire jobs in our rural economy.

Senate Bill 129, which passed the Senate last month to conserve our biomass power plants, is now being deliberated by the House Science, Technology and Energy Committee. This bill seeks to fix a flaw in the RPS program for New Hampshire’s six independent biomass power plants. If not fixed, it is pretty certain these plants and more than $250 million of annual economic activity the state realizes from their operations would be lost.

Without these biomass plants, the forest products industry, valued at $1.4 billion per year to our New Hampshire economy, would collapse. New Hampshire would lose local energy sources, making us more reliant on outside sources. Hundreds of jobs in the logging, trucking, and forest industries would be lost.

While we look at the larger factors in energy prices, we cannot lose sight of the benefits of local energy production here at home and what it means to our state and local rural economy. I’m asking the House Energy Committee to support SB 129.

Hunter Carbee is policy director for the Granite State division of the Society of American Foresters.