Sununu unveils clean energy plan, foes lament his past vetoes

Gov. Chris Sununu got behind a package of Republican-led bills for clean energy initiatives that he said don’t pick winners and losers. His critics claim it’s an attempt to improve his image after two years of vetoing bills for renewable power. This image is of the former DG Whitefield biomass plant in Whitefield that closed last year after the Legislature failed to override a Sununu veto to continue subsidies for six, small wood-fired power plants including this one.

CONCORD — Gov. Chris Sununu embraced a package of Republican-led plans to promote clean energy to start the 2020 legislative session in what political opponents say is an attempt to disavow two years of vetoes.

“These clean energy bills are a home run for ratepayers and the environment,” Sununu said in a statement Monday.

“These bills would expand access to net metering, open new opportunities for clean energy development, and allow towns to better control their electric bills. Most of all, these bills protect ratepayers and remove government barriers instead of enacting new ones, something past clean energy-related legislation has not been able to accomplish.”

Here’s a brief summary of the GOP energy package Sununu endorsed.

Net Meter Limit (HB 1481). Sponsor Rep. John Plumer, R-Belmont. Right now only generators of up to one megawatt of power can participate in net metering — the practice of customers selling surplus power to the grid to offset the cost of power they draw from the utility. The measure raises the limit to more than 1 megawatt as long as it’s no more than 125 percent of the customer’s average monthly electricity use.

Municipal Host Energy (HB 1402). Sponsor-Rep. Timothy Lang, R-Sanbornton. This creates a new exemption under net metering, called “the municipal host,” which can be a group of customers, as long as all are owned or operated by cities or towns.

Limited Power Producers (HB 1262). Sponsor-Rep. Michael Costable, R-Raymond. This would expand the authority of generators of their own power to sell it on the retail market as long as the buyers reside in New Hampshire.

Sununu critics say the governor has a record of support for the fossil fuel industry and has opposed incentives for renewables such as wood-burning or biomass and solar power.

“Gov. Chris Sununu has a long track record of opposing clean energy and now he’s trying to rewrite his record with this stunt,” said Senate Majority Leader Dan Feltes, D-Concord, a declared Sununu opponent for governor in 2020. “It’s disappointing that after vetoing bipartisan legislation, Governor Sununu chose to focus on partisan measures rather than reaching across the aisle to find real solutions.”

House Republican Policy Leader Jason Osborne of Auburn said the bills “are fair to everyone without picking winners and losers in the energy market.”

“Conservatives have united behind Governor Sununu’s clean energy plan because it focuses on results rather than government handouts to special interests,” Osborne said.

Sen. David Watters, D-Dover, chairman of the Senate Capital Budget Committee, said the measures don’t go far enough.

“While we welcome movement from the governor on net metering, the most important thing to do is to raise the cap on net metering as proposed in HB 365 and SB 13, a concept that was endorsed by municipalities across the state and had bipartisan support in the Legislature,” Watters said.

The State Senate on Wednesday is expected to vote on its net metering bill, which would raise the cap from 1 megawatt to 5 megawatts (SB 13) and the House of Representatives has its own bill to lift that cap but also require that energy users consume 50 percent of the power they make (SB 159).

The New Hampshire Businesses for Social Responsibility last spring had endorsed clean energy principles, including the net metering cap change. The group’s members ranged from the Duprey Companies and Hypertherm to Autodesk, Coca-Cola Bottling Company of Northern New England, Dartmouth-Hitchcock Health and Ski New Hampshire.

Rep. Lang said Sununu’s goal has always been to support clean energy that doesn’t pick sides.

“These bills represent a huge opportunity for New Hampshire,” Lang said. “With Governor Sununu’s leadership we have found creative ways to break the net metering deadlock and unleash more private investment in the state all without adversely impacting ratepayers.”

“NH’s economy will be impacted by climate change in a big way with $645 million worth at present value of residential seacoast property at risk if we don’t address this crisis,” said former Rep. Mindi Messmer, a clean water environmental activist and Democratic candidate for Executive Council in 2020.

“Unfortunately, the governor vetoed five clean energy bills last session, many of which are being addressed in part by this new legislation. It’s a time to work together to address this crisis. It’s not the time to play partisan politics.”

The biggest fight of the past two years was over subsidies for up to six biomass or wood-burning plants.

For two years Sununu fought and vetoed bills maintaining these subsidies.

A federal regulatory agency in the first year ruled the subsidies were not validly adopted.

In response, lawmakers retooled their bill in 2019, but it fell six votes short of overriding Sununu’s second veto.

The operators of two biomass plants in Springfield and Whitefield shortly afterward closed and laid off their workers.

After winning those veto fights last spring, Sununu vowed he would propose “common sense” clean energy bills this year.

“The people of New Hampshire support Governor Sununu and Republican efforts to utilize market principles to expand clean energy,” said Joe Sweeney, communications director for the NH Republican State Committee.

“Unfortunately Democrats would rather play political games while Governor Sununu and Republicans are working to expand clean energy while protecting New Hampshire ratepayers.”

But Sierra Club Chapter Director Catherine Corkery said New Hampshire is lagging behind its neighbors when it comes to promoting renewables.

“Without energy choice people in New Hampshire will continue to be dissatisfied with lawmakers in the pockets of the powerful. New Hampshire needs solid investments in energy efficiency and distributed energy models that work in our neighboring states with the same utilities,” Corkery said.

“The governor can learn from the path of successful carbon free energy adoption examples not 50 miles away. We are calling for clean energy for all.”

Thursday, May 28, 2020
Wednesday, May 27, 2020