PROTECTING JOBS in New Hampshire has always been my top priority. This is why I have consistently supported the biomass power plants that burn low-grade wood to produce electricity.
One of these plants is in Tamworth and five others are in northern and western New Hampshire. These six plants employ hard-working men and women directly at the plants, as well as those who work in the forests.
Over 900 jobs and $250 million of annual economic activity are directly related to these six plants. These jobs and economic activity have received bipartisan support for years. Unfortunately, they again are at risk as all of the plants have been temporarily shut down at times due to litigation preventing implementation of legislation I wrote in 2018 — SB 365.
Biomass supports more than jobs. Biomass produces 100 megawatts of reliable, home-grown electricity. Biomass also supports our forest-products industry — the third-largest industry in New Hampshire’s economy.
Biomass plays a critical role in our state’s forest management — helping to sustain open lands and trail systems, curtailing risk of forest fires, assisting agriculture and supporting sawmills and timber companies.
If this sounds familiar, that’s because it is. The Legislature overrode the veto of SB 365 last year. However, despite overwhelming legislative support in 2018, a Massachusetts-based lobbying group, New England Ratepayers Association (“NERA”) filed an ill-considered lawsuit challenging our law in Washington. This litigation halted implementation of SB 365 because the lawsuit has not been adjudicated in Washington.
In response to the lawsuit, I drafted an amendment to HB 183 in 2019 to address any issues in the pending NERA lawsuit. Unfortunately, HB 183 has also been vetoed. I hope in order to protect these jobs and the health of our forests and timbering industry that veto will also be overridden in September.
It bears asking, who is the New England Ratepayers Association and who does it serve? For starters, NERA doesn’t even disclose its membership, nor does it disclose from where it receives financial support. Hiding behind the veil of secrecy, NERA claims to represent the “interests of ratepayers,” yet its actions demonstrate otherwise.
In the HB 183 public hearing, I repeatedly questioned NERA’s position on utility-requested rate increases.
Specifically, I asked NERA about Eversource’s requested rate increase of $70 million dollars and would NERA file testimony and support the Eversource rate increase? NERA’s representative said, “yes, it would file testimony and it was unlikely to support a rate increase.”
Fast forward several months, NERA never even filed to intervene or participate in the Eversource rate case at the Public Utilities Commission. NERA’s lack of participation means — in essence — NERA supports this $70 million rate increase as they have not even taken advantage of an opportunity to file testimony in the PUC proceeding.
NERA’s actions and secrecy speak loud volumes as to whom they may represent.
Meanwhile, across New Hampshire biomass plants have again ceased regular operations, creating widespread job loss and havoc in the forestry industry. Loggers are cutting back crews, plants aren’t running 24/7 anymore, and landowners are selling acreage. Timber taxes, local property taxes, and business tax revenues will be adversely affected. Long-term access to snowmobile trails and other recreational uses may be lost.
There is a cost to electric customers to keep these plants open. However, there is also a cost if these plants permanently close. That cost of closure is known as the cost of “capacity” to ensure adequate supply of electricity when there are power-plant outages. This cost of “capacity” is borne by all electric customers in New England and determined by an auction conducted by the Independent System Operator (ISO) of the grid.
An expert has twice testified to the Legislature that increased future costs of capacity for New Hampshire will be $17 million annually if the biomass plants close, which happens to be about the same cost of keeping the plants open annually.
This debate comes at a time when ISO is warning of future blackouts because the region does not have adequate sources of electric generation. New Hampshire’s 100 megawatts of biomass generation are important for future electric system reliability.
For all of the above reasons I hope that my colleagues will again vote to pass HB 183 despite the veto. Nine hundred jobs are at stake.
The ability to manage our forests is at stake. Loss of snowmobile and other recreational resources is at stake. The ability of private land owners to maintain open space rather than create house lots is at stake. Future electric price increases, loss of generation capacity and a reliable grid are at stake.
A secretive Massachusetts lobbying group that tacitly supports Eversource’s $70 million proposed rate hike shouldn’t be listened to.
The people that should be listened to are the hard-working men and women of New Hampshire whose jobs are at risk and who are asking the Legislature to pass HB 183.