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Gene Chandler: Biomass and net metering help NH

August 26. 2018 8:18PM

LAWMAKERS will decide whether to override Gov. Chris Sununu’s vetoes of SB 365 and SB 446 on Sept. 13. The two bills enhance and support renewable energy industries in New Hampshire. After months of scrutiny, both passed with strong bipartisan votes in the House and Senate. Unfortunately, the governor rejected both bills, claiming they would cost ratepayers $100 million dollars.

It makes you wonder how lawmakers could support these bills if all they do is run up costs. Respectfully, the governor’s numbers are incorrect and based on incomplete information. His reasoning overlooks the many benefits that led the Legislature to pass both bills. The Legislature supports reducing electric rates and has already taken the step of repealing the electricity consumption tax on consumer bills effective 2019. The vetoes of SB 365 and SB 446 are not the way to reduce electric rates.

SB 365 supports the state’s biomass industry. A Plymouth State study showed the six New Hampshire plants that use low-grade wood from loggers to generate power offer many benefits beyond the meter. The study concluded the industry supports thousands of Granite Staters, helps maintain our forests for recreation and wildlife, and has economic benefits of $254 million annually.

Vetoing this bill would force these plants to close, eliminating 100 megawatts of power, impacting roughly 900 workers, and devastating our highly productive $1.4 billion statewide timber and forest management system. The governor recognized this value when it came to the Burgess Biomass Plant in Berlin, but did not for the rest of the state.

Opponents say the biomass industry has received $2 billion in subsidies. Contracts approved by the state based on utility pricing from the 1980s cannot be counted as subsidies. The state has invested in renewable energy for decades as part of state policy. The nonpartisan fiscal note for SB 365 explains the bill will cost about $18 million dollars a year for only three years as short-term relief for the biomass plants. That is about $1.78 on a typical homeowner’s bill.

However, if biomass power is lost, it will have to be replaced with something else, which will cost NH ratepayers $17 million dollars a year, forever. So there’s no real savings and no financial reason to shut down biomass, especially when you factor in jobs, energy production, economic activity and forest management among its greatest benefits.

If the SB 365 veto is upheld, the entire state economy will feel the impact. In fact, since the governor’s vetoes, approximately $10 million worth of orders for timber and logging equipment from companies around New Hampshire have been canceled. The vetoes sent a ripple effect through the timber industry. Logging and forestry operations everywhere brace for more cuts.

SB 446, the net metering bill, enables businesses and communities to use more renewable energy to cut energy costs and benefit local taxpayers, without cost-shifting or subsidies. The fiscal note of SB 446 states there are no costs to the state. Businesses and municipalities generate their own electricity, saving money on their electric bills, and the companies contracted to install and maintain these energy projects provide good jobs and pay business and property taxes, which generates significant revenues to communities and the state.

If this veto is sustained, hundreds of millions in projects being planned now to lower local energy bills will be lost.

In Nashua, SB 446 would allow the city to use its small hydro projects to offset half of the city’s and school’s electricity use and save taxpayers approximately $350,000 annually.

In Franklin, a solar array on a landfill will generate revenues, savings, and power. SB 446 could support $125 million worth of investments in New Hampshire in one year alone and millions of dollars in savings on electric bills. This is why many of the state’s large businesses, including Dartmouth-Hitchcock, Foodstate, Monadnock Paper Mills, Timberland, Wire Belt, and Worthen Industries provided testimony in support SB 446.

In the timber and renewable energy sectors, both vetoes carry a human cost across the state. In the North Country where I live, our region’s economy isn’t as resilient as other parts of the state. I’ve seen difficulties first-hand from families who are impacted. Granite Staters aren’t being protected by the vetoes, they’re being harmed by them.

SB 365 and SB 446 encourage energy diversity, promote savings, protect jobs and support natural resources. Lawmakers overwhelmingly supported both bills the first time. I urge lawmakers to double-check the math. I’m confident they will make the right decision and overturn these two misinformed vetoes.

Rep. Gene Chandler (R-Bartlett) is Speaker of the New Hampshire House, but is writing as a representative of Carroll County District 1.

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