CONCORD — Wood and solar energy advocates rallied their troops in front of the State House on Thursday, hoping to save wood-burning power plants and large-scale solar projects threatened by two gubernatorial vetoes.
Speaker after speaker warned of dire consequences if lawmakers fail to override the vetoes when they convene on Sept. 13, including the possibility that large landowners will close their property to snowmobile and ATV trails.
“Are you fired up? Is everybody hot under the collar? Well so am I,” shouted state Sen. Jeb Bradley, R-Wolfeboro, to a cheering crowd of supporters who displayed their enthusiasm for the cause while seeking shade from a blazing hot sun.
The large crowd of loggers, solar industry employees, municipal officials and others present left the event with lobbying kits they will use to pressure lawmakers in the few days that remain before “veto day,” when a two-thirds vote in each chamber will be required to reverse the governor’s decision.
Sununu vetoed the two bills designed to support biomass and solar energy in June, citing their expected cost and stating they’d send New Hampshire “in exactly the wrong direction.”
Senate Bill 365 would require Eversource and other distribution utilities to pay above-market rates to the state’s six biomass (wood-burning) power plants, the cost of which is passed along to consumers in their electric bills.
Senate Bill 446 would expand the state’s net metering program, which requires utilities to buy electricity from solar energy generators at above-wholesale rates, to large-scale solar projects. The bill would have raised qualifying net meter solar projects from 1 megawatt to 5 megawatts.
Sununu said the two bills would cost Granite State ratepayers approximately $100 million over the next three years in higher electricity costs.
“As governor, my job is to represent the 1.3 million people of this state. We have some of the highest energy rates in the nation, and we must work to lower them,” he said on Thursday in response to the rally.
“This yearly, $30 million regressive tax will be downshifted to the elderly on fixed incomes and the small businesses that power our economy. This veto took nothing away from the biomass industry, it just simply did not give them an additional $30 million a year.”
Sununu says representatives from the biomass industry told him that they could not guarantee their businesses would stay financially afloat, even if the biomass bill was signed into law.
“We also must look at the other side,” he said, alluding to support for the veto from the Business and Industry Association and other stakeholders. “We have over 150,000 manufacturing jobs in this state. If one manufacturer decides to leave this state due to high energy costs, that could be devastating to our economy.”
Supporters of the legislation say the governor is overstating the costs and ignoring the economic benefits that come with renewable, home-grown energy.
Bradley, the Senate majority leader, predicted the Senate would have enough votes to override the vetoes, but the House vote is anyone’s guess. He implored rally goers to contact lawmakers and urge them to reverse the governor’s decision.
“Talk about your jobs and the impact on your families and communities,” he said. “Tell lawmakers the savings predicted by the governor are temporary, and the long-term costs of the vetoes make this a loser. And tell them our state loses so much, our home-grown energy will go away.”
Bradley said Sununu is overlooking the costs the state will incur if the six wood-burning power plants have to shut down. Three of the six plants have already announced they are winding down operations.
Mayors from some of the state’s largest cities, including Manchester Mayor Joyce Craig, are working to salvage the net metering bill, as they consider big solar projects near landfills or other municipal properties. Dover, Rochester, Nashua, Portsmouth and Franklin are also among the cities lobbying for an override.
Tom Thomson of the Thomson Family Tree Farm in Orford was one of the organizers and speakers at the event. The son of former Gov. Meldrim Thomson said his family would have to starting selling house lots instead of growing trees if the wood-burning power plants close and foresters lose their market for low-grade wood.
“I want to continue growing trees and pass that land on to our son and grandkids,” he said, referring to the family’s 2,600 acres in the Orford area. “I have been an advocate for years to keep open space open. However, we may have nothing else left in our toolbox, other than cutting off access or putting up for-sale signs.”
Threat of closures
Thomson and other large landowners are hoping the threat of large trail closures will help sway the handful of House votes needed to tilt the outcome in their direction.
“I think the governor and legislators need to know that is a real concern in this state,” he said in an interview before the rally got under way.
“Just take snowmobiling. We open eight to 10 miles of our land. We don’t get paid for it and we don’t expect to. I want to share my land with the general public and the state of New Hampshire that makes billions of dollars off our land, but (closure) is a serious possibility.”
The threat of trail closure is also being used to attract support for an override among the large community of snowmobile and off-road enthusiasts in the state.
In a July 23 letter to the snowmobile clubs, Thomson and Robert Berti of Foreco foresters in Rumney urged club members to sign the override petition, which so far has collected 6,000 signatures, according to the Timberland Owners Association.
“The day of the veto, over $10 million in forestry equipment sales went up in smoke, because there is too much uncertainty,” said Jasen Stock, executive director of the association.
“Three biomass plants immediately went idle and all six plants will shut down if this veto stands. That will destroy our state’s forest management industry.”