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 — Supporters of increased subsidies for six small wood-burning power plants came up just short Wednesday in a bid to override Gov. Chris Sununu’s veto.

The measure had solid bipartisan support, but the 251-132 vote was five shy of the two-thirds majority needed.

State Rep. Michael Harrington, R-Strafford, hammered away at the out-of-state ownership of the plants and that these subsidies end up raising electric rates for all New Hampshire consumers.

Over the past 20 years, critics said the subsidies have totaled $2 billion.

“Do we need to pay more in electric rates so they can make more in profits?” asked Harrington, a former member of the NH Public Utilities Commission.

“They are taking ratepayer subsidies and they are using it to pay lobbyists to come down here to plead for more ratepayer subsidies. That’s a real kick in the pants,”he said.

Rep. Erin Hennessey, R-Littleton, said the measure (HB 183) would have preserved 900 jobs that pump $250 million into the economy and help preserve the forest industry, the third largest sector in the state.

“This is not about the ownership; it is about the jobs and economic activity that these plants create,” Hennessy said.

In 2018, lawmakers overrode a Sununu veto of a similar bill that automatically granted these subsidies to the plants.

A Massachusetts-based power advocacy group convinced the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to rule that measure had overstepped state authority.

The 2019 version would have given instructions to the state Public Utilities Commission to grant these subsidies, which advocates said could withstand a legal challenge

Sununu praised lawmakers for upholding his veto.

“This bill would have cost NH ratepayers approximately $20 million a year over the next three years, picked winners and losers in a competitive energy market and would have harmed our most vulnerable citizens for the benefits of a few,” Sununu said.

On another energy matter, Sununu barely ducked losing another veto fight over a measure to permit larger customers to produce their own renewable power that electric utilities would have to purchase.

The so-called “net metering” measure was endorsed 248-132 Wednesday, but fell six votes shy of the two-thirds needed.

“This will spur private municipal investment and more diverse energy projects,” said Rep. Troy Merner, R-Lancaster. “This will keep our energy dollars here in New Hampshire.”

Rep. Harrington said raising the cap on net metering from one to five megawatts would only benefit large customers at the expense of low and moderate-income consumers.

“We are talking about large solar arrays from people who are either very rich…or we are talking about companies or corporations that are going to do this to make big money,” Harrington said.

After winning that veto fight, Sununu said he looks forward to proposing “common sense energy legislation” in the 2020 session.