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Kevin Landrigan's Granite Status: Renewable energy bills under Sununu's strict scrutiny

New Hampshire Union Leader

May 30. 2018 10:38PM

Supporters of New Hampshire’s renewable energy industry are working hard, but signs point to Gov. Chris Sununu rejecting their three top bills of the 2018 session.

They still have time to make their case, and the New Hampshire Timberland Association is calling backers urging them to weigh in with Sununu. Their pitch is the governor needs to be on board because these bills preserve good-paying jobs, especially in the economically challenged Great North Woods.

In all cases, even some supporters admit that their best hope may rest with Sununu deciding not to sign some or all of the measures rather than veto them outright.

The one in the biggest trouble appears to be Senate Bill 365, which would require Eversource to pay 80 percent of the default rate to six wood-burning plants for three years. Backers say this would protect nearly 1,000 jobs, most in the timber industry.

The Business & Industry Association has called upon Sununu to veto it, maintaining it only drives up electric rates and conflicts with Sununu’s own 10-year energy plan, which places more stress on cutting high electricity rates than on promoting renewable energy.

The other wood-fired bill specifically would continue the subsidized rate that’s paid for power from the Burgess BioPower plant in Berlin.

Senate Majority Leader Jeb Bradley, R-Wolfeboro, made this one harder for Sununu to set aside by attaching changes that benefit large power producers.

The third is probably the most sweeping, since it dramatically expands the size of development that can qualify for net metering. This is the program that lets homeowners and small businesses get credit or cash back for making their own power.

Extending the upper limit of these projects from 1 megawatt to 5 megawatts could allow large businesses and cities and towns to take advantage of this.

Fiscal conservatives in the Legislature have split over these measures. All of them easily got veto-proof majority votes in the state Senate. The Berlin power plant had overwhelming House support, while the other two passed by roughly 2-1 majorities.

Supporters insist they still believe Sununu could come around. Critics maintain all three of these violate Sununu’s principal focus to contain New Hampshire’s very high electric rates.

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State Rep. Steve Negron, R-Nashua, continues to steadily gain support among the very conservative base of the Republican Party for his 2nd Congressional District candidacy.

GraniteGrok, the conservative political blog, has chosen sides and went with Negron over former Manchester Veteran Affairs Medical Center whistleblower Dr. Stewart Levenson of Hopkinton and former Army officer and ex-Concord state representative Lynne Blackenbeker

“We not only unearthed every stone — we threw a few at him too! Did he answer ALL of our questions in a satisfactory manner? Honestly, no, but then again, very few politicians can. However, in the end, we believe that he earned our votes for an endorsement — we now ask you for your vote come September for Steve Negron,” GraniteGrok posted Tuesday.

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Senate Democratic Leader Jeff Woodburn of Whitefield and the Republican executive councilor from the region, Wakefield’s Joe Kenney, attracted a lively debate on social media about the fate of closed rest areas in New Hampshire.

As the Sunday News chronicled last month, state officials and a new public-private partnership commission want to solicit development proposals either for these properties or other ones along state highways to provide services to residents and visitors.

Woodburn posted a picture of the former rest area in Shelburne that — along with a half-dozen others — were closed by the state during the last recession.

“Shelburne rest area is a disgrace! (It’s a) Reminder that NH knows cost of everything and value of nothing,” Woodburn said.

Kenney responded that Transportation Commissioner Victoria Sheehan is leading an effort to revitalize these locales.

“I was with her there a month and half ago. The state, with the approval of the federal highway, wants to sell the property. The local town would have the right of first refusal,” Kenney said. “If the town does not want it, the DOT plan would be to sell it to the local adjacent campground owner, assuming they were still interested. But obviously this would go through the Long Range Capital Committee, it would be an open bid process.”

Woodburn added, “The richest state in the country can afford to have rest areas, welcome centers similar to less affluent states like Vermont and Maine.”

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Sununu should not have any trouble sustaining his latest veto, which blocked an attempt by the Department of Environmental Services to have more unfettered control over spending from a dam maintenance fund.

The agency had asked for and lawmakers had granted changing from $75,000 to $150,000 the spending for projects that did not require the approval of the governor and Executive Council.

Sununu, a former three-term councilor, did not agree.

“I am concerned that councilors were not consulted as this bill (HB 1736) went through the legislative process,” Sununu said.

“New Hampshire’s proud tradition of careful fiscal management counsels against reducing popularly elected officials’ oversight of expenditure of taxpayer dollars absent a compelling justification.”

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Democratic candidate for governor Molly Kelly, a former state senator from Harrisville, has attracted the support of 16 current and former state senators.

The group includes four of the present 10 Democratic senators, Sens. Lou D’Allesandro of Manchester, Dan Feltes of Concord, David Watters of Dover and Woodburn.

Other supporters included former Senate Presidents Sylvia Larsen of Concord and Bev Hollingworth of Hampton and ex-Attorney General Joe Foster of Nashua.

“I’m grateful to earn the enthusiastic support of state senators who have seen firsthand my progressive values in action to improve the lives of people in our state,” Kelly said.

Republican State Chairman Jeanie Forrester called this the “left wing vs. the far left wing” battle in the Democratic primary.

“Molly Kelly is the textbook definition of a Concord insider,” Forrester said. “The New Hampshire Democrat Party elites, led by Senator Shaheen, are trying to elbow out Bernie Sanders-supporting Steve Marchand from the Democrat primary. After the bitter and divisive 2016 presidential primary, the New Hampshire Democrat establishment is eager to re-open the deep divisions in their party.”

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With Sununu and Democratic legislative leaders fighting openly about other ballot access legislation, Sen. Feltes wanted to praise the GOP leadership and Sununu for supporting a Democratic initiative to make it illegal for foreign governments to interfere in state election campaigns.

“On the heels of confirmed electioneering by foreign governments, including through the use of computers, it is more important than ever to shore up both our laws and our systems in order to better safeguard our democracy,” Feltes said.

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Democratic candidate for Secretary of State Colin Van Ostern of Concord has released copies of staff emails from the city of Manchester in 2017 to demonstrate that a state-used voter machine program wrongly flagged hundreds of legal voters as out-of-state residents.

Van Ostern and other Democrats have been vocal critics of the Crosscheck program the state of New Hampshire is involved in, along with 28 other states.

According to a September 2017 email, Assistant City Clerk JoAnn Ferruolo researched the voter files of 34 who had been flagged as out-of-staters and found 15 of them (44 percent) had voted in Manchester.

“The Secretary of State has provided this data to the local jurisdictions to act on. I do not feel comfortable removing 859 voter records where 44 percent of the sample was found to be an active voter in Manchester,” Ferruolo said.

Van Ostern commented, “It is important that legislators and members of the public are given a full view into how widely the Crosscheck system has inaccurately painted thousands of valid New Hampshire voters with a broad brush and put large numbers of eligible voters’ registration status erroneously at risk.”

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House Minority Leader Steve Shurtleff, D-Penacook, said he spent the Memorial Day holiday weekend visiting the places important to his great-grandfather, Samuel Shurtleff, a Civil War veteran who served with the 3rd Vermont Infantry.

He started out in Walden, Vt., where the elder Shurtleff was born in 1837 and then went on to St. Johnsbury, which had been the site of Camp Baxter; it was there he enlisted in the Union Army in 1862. Steve Shurtleff then went to Montpelier to visit the former Sloan Military Hospital, where his great-grandfather was honorably discharged from the Union Army in 1865.

Samuel Shurtleff was wounded at Gettysburg and treated in Sloan for diphtheria.

He died in Concord, N.H. in 1888 at the age of 50.

“On this Memorial Day neither he nor his service has been forgotten,” Shurtleff said.

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Democratic Party Chairman Ray Buckley of Manchester took to Facebook Wednesday to thank those who helped him during a pretty traumatic car crash May 1.

The Union Leader knew about the crash but didn’t report on it because no one was seriously hurt or charged in the aftermath.

“Just after 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, May 1, I was driving down South Beech Street in Manchester when a young person ran the stop sign on Central Street,” Buckley wrote. “The end result was that both of our cars were totaled. Neither of us had any serious injuries but what did happen after the accident was amazing.”

After the crash, Buckley said residents came pouring out of their apartments “nearly all persons of color,” making sure everyone was OK and comforting us until the first responders arrived.

“The Manchester police officers, firefighters and EMTs were phenomenal, each group doing their job in a professional and very supportive manner. I obviously was shook up, (one minute I’m driving down the street, the next minute all the airbags explode and I’m on the other side of the street) but they were amazing,” Buckley said.

After that, Buckley said insurance companies, junkyard and car rental agencies all were supportive.

“So, my point is, a month ago I had a pretty traumatic event but every single human being that I interacted with could not have been kinder or more supportive,” Buckley wrote. “At a time when folks are being so mean to each other and the news is so overwhelmingly negative, it is nice to know there are many more good people out there than we may think.”

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Sens. Maggie Hassan, D-N.H. had the support of 29 bipartisan senators to ask the Federal Communications Commission to extend the time to complete a federal map of eligible areas for $4.5 billion in federal spending to support rural areas that need access to high-speed broadband.

Hassan said the initial map of the FCC contains errors about areas of the state that are not served by state-of-the-art service

“While you have noted that state, local, and Tribal governments can participate in the challenge process, absent additional direction, they may remain unaware or unprepared to do so,” the senators wrote. “We appreciate and encourage additional outreach to state, local, and Tribal governments on how they can participate in the challenge process.”

The senators got some good news at day’s end Wednesday when FCC Chairman Ajit Pai announced he would extend this process by 90 days.

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Rep. Annie Kuster, D-N.H. visited Hypertherm in Lebanon Wednesday to promote her Jobs and Opportunity Tomorrow agenda, which boosts workforce development, college affordability and economic investment. Kuster was named as an Annual Walk in My Shoes honoree from Future in Sight, a nonprofit organization serving almost 4,000 blind and visually impaired residents in New Hampshire.

“Congresswoman Kuster is an especially fierce advocate of active-duty military and veterans’ needs — and Future in Sight serves about 150 New Hampshire veterans through its programs,” said David Morgan, the group’s CEO.

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