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Reps from forestry, biomass industries push for overrides of two Sununu vetoes

Union Leader Correspondent

August 23. 2018 8:52PM
A group of lawmakers and forestry industry workers gathered at the CAT facility in Londonderry Thursday to discuss why Gov. Chris Sununu's veto of two bills affecting biomass energy should be overturned. (Ryan Lessard/Union Leader Correspondent)

LONDONDERRY — About 50 people, including some state senators, representatives and members of the forestry industry, attended a gathering at the Milton CAT facility on Industrial Drive to drum up support for a legislative override of two vetoes by Gov. Chris Sununu.

They argued the vetoes of SB 365 and SB 446 hurt the biomass energy industry as well as several ancillary industries and subsequently the forests themselves.

SB 365 was designed to prop up the struggling biomass industry. It would require electric utilities to purchase the energy output of eligible biomass and waste-to-energy facilities in its service area. When Sununu vetoed the bill, he said it would increase rates by $25 million a year for the next three years.

Critics say it amounts to a subsidy, with a cost of about $18 million per year for three years, according to Jasen Stock with the New Hampshire Timberland Owners Association.

But Stock said that doesn’t take into account the negative impacts on up to 900 jobs, $254 million of economic activity in the timber industry or the potential loss of 100 megawatts from the grid if the biomass plants fail. And it doesn’t account for the estimated cost of replacing that energy, which is $17 million a year indefinitely, Stock said.

The bill was conceived as a temporary “bridge” to keep the plants running until they can find a longer term solution, Stock said.

SB 446 would have increased net metering capacity for customer generators.

In Sununu’s veto message in June, he said the bill would have cost ratepayers $5-$10 million per year. But supporters of the bill say there is no evidence to support that claim.

Both bills had bipartisan support. Many of the lawmakers at the event were Republicans like Senate Majority Leader Jeb Bradley, Sens. Regina Birdsell and Sharon Carson.

CAT Milton was directly affected by the vetoes, according to sales manager Glenn Scott. He said the company, which sells heavy equipment for the forestry industry, had a roughly $1 million deal on the table that evaporated on June 19, the day of the vetoes.

Scott said low-grade wood used for biomass plants makes up about 40 percent of all the timber in the state. And if there’s no one there to buy the wood chips, there’s no economic incentive for the timber industry to cut them down, leaving a forest crowded with otherwise useless trees.

Tom Thomson, a timberland owner of 2,600 acres and the conservative son of former Gov. Mel Thomson, spoke at the event in favor of overriding the veto.

“You have to weed your garden if you want healthy vegetables,” Thomson said. “It’s the same thing with forests.”

Shelagh Connelly is the owner of Resource Management, Inc. in Holderness. She told the crowd gathered there that she recycles wood ash from spent wood chips burned in biomass plants by selling them to farmers looking to enrich their soil with potassium.

If the plants close, she said it would have a big impact on her business, which employs 30 people, including her kids.

“For me, it’s a third of my business that will go away,” she said.

The closest alternative sources of wood ash come from Saskatchewan, Canada, and Florida, she said.

Business and Industry Association President Jim Roche said legislators should sustain the veto of SB 365 because “it should not be the role of state government to unnecessarily prop up one kind of energy technology that shows no long-term prospect of survival and requires all New Hampshire ratepayers to keep it alive.”

Roche said manufacturers in the state are particularly sensitive to electric rates, which are already 50 to 60 percent higher in the state than the national average, he said.

Stock said BAE Systems, one of the largest manufacturers in the state, lobbied for the veto of SB 365.

The BIA did not take a position on SB 446.

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