Whitefield biomass plant

The Whitefield biomass plant, pictured here, is one of the plants closing.

CONCORD — After almost 40 people lost their jobs at two wood-burning power plants this week, state Sen. Dan Feltes filed a bill that would provide funds to help them find new careers.

The two plants, in Whitefield and Springfield, stopped buying wood in April. The plants are closing in part because a bill to support them did not survive the last legislative session.

In August, Gov. Chris Sununu vetoed a bill that would have required electric utilities to buy power from New Hampshire’s six biomass power plants. The bill had been passed with support from both Republican and Democratic legislators, but there were not enough votes to override Sununu’s veto. A similar law passed in 2018 over Sununu’s veto, but a lawsuit stopped its implementation.

Some business leaders say the bill and its subsides would hurt New Hampshire businesses by unnecessarily raising energy costs.

The bill would have delivered three years of subsidies for New Hampshire’s six wood-burning plants — but without those subsidies, the future of the plants is in doubt.

“We are disappointed that this important jobs and forestry solution was turned into a political control battle,” Edward Kent, president of the company that owns the Whitefield and Springfield plants, said in a statement.

Jasen Stock, executive director of the New Hampshire Timberland Owners Association, warned the closing plants would impact the wider community, and make it harder for landowners to profit from their land.

In Concord, Feltes — the Senate Majority Leader who is running to replace Sununu as governor in 2020 — filed a bill Friday to provide money to help biomass industry workers train for and find new jobs. The bill, titled the “Biomass and Forest Products Workers Assistance Act of 2020,” would earmark unemployment funds to help biomass workers learn new skills and find new jobs.

Ben Vihstadt, a spokesman for Gov. Chris Sununu, said in a statement that workers were already being connected with state resources for job training, community college courses, unemployment benefits and information on local jobs, after the state Department of Employment Security visited the plants this week.

On Twitter, Vihstadt took a harsher tone on Feltes’ bill. “Fact check: the state is already doing all of this,” he wrote.

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