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Another View, with Rep. Michael Harrington: Sununu should veto bills that would hurt New Hampshire ratepayers

June 17. 2018 1:34AM

The Burgess BioPower plant in Berlin. (JOHN KOZIOL/CORRESPONDENT FILE)

Over the last few weeks, the Union Leader has printed a couple of columns in the "Another View" section extolling the virtues of ratepayer subsidies for solar net metering electric generators and the Burgess Biomass Generator. Let's start by making it clear I have no problem with using solar or biomass to produce electricity. My problem is forcing the ratepayers to subsidize them.

Any business can create jobs and pay taxes if the government forces the public to buy its product at a price it claims it needs. I could start an indoor pineapple farm in New Hampshire that would create jobs and pay taxes if I could get the government to force everyone to buy my pineapples at the price I say I need.

The Burgess Biomass Generator was built on taxpayer subsidies. Under the Obama administration, it was able to roll up future federal production tax credits worth tens of millions of dollars as well as federal "New Market" tax credits to help finance the construction of the plant. Under the New Hampshire Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS), electric suppliers are forced to buy the electric output from it and other qualified renewable sources, at above-market rates. These additional costs are passed directly on to all ratepayers across New Hampshire.

You would think this would be enough but no, they demand more. The original contract between PSNH (now Eversource) and the biomass plant called for PSNH to pay above-market rates, but capped this amount at $100 million. That cap will be met far sooner than anticipated, so the Legislature passed a bill (SB 577) requiring the PUC to order Eversource to continue to pay above-market rates for three more years. Of course, this extra amount will be paid for in the form of higher rates.

Not happy with just subsidizing one special interest group, the Legislature also passed SB 466, which would raise the limit on net-metered solar generators that can be sold back to the electric grid from one megawatt (MW) to five. We are not talking about roof top units on a house. A five MW solar array takes up acres of land and in each year of operation, it produces enough electricity to power over 800 homes.

Again, I have no problem with solar, but SB 466 would force the utilities to buy their entire output at a price that is about double the going market rate. All these additional costs would be paid by New Hampshire ratepayers. Net metered solar generators would also be eligible for additional subsidies under the RPS program.

Net metered solar generators also add additional cost to the utilities in the form of additional risk. Unlike other generators, they pay no penalty for not producing. They can go from zero to five MWs and back to 0 again at anytime with no penalty. As the amount of net metering increases (and it surely would under SB 466) the risk associated with the volatility goes up. There is a cost for covering that risk, and yes, you guessed it, that cost would be paid by ratepayers.

Another bill that passed this year is SB 365. It would force the utilities to buy the entire output from a selected group of older renewable generators at well above market rates. Like the other qualified renewable generators, they would still get additional payments under the RPS program. These generators have already received $2 billion in ratepayer subsidies since being built. They have never run without subsidies and never will.

In conclusion, if you don't want to see your electric rates get even higher, ask Gov. Sununu to veto these three costly bills.

Rep. Michael Harrington, R-Strafford, represents New Durham and Strafford.

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