Loggers, environmentalists rally against NH energy bills veto

Published: Sep. 6, 2018 at 3:26 PM EDT
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A crowd gathered at the Statehouse in Concord, New Hampshire, Thursday, voicing their opposition to recent vetoes by Gov. Chris Sununu. The crowd said one of those vetoes puts the future of New Hampshire's forests at risk.

Loggers, truck drivers, landowners and plant workers gathered on the lawn at the Statehouse as big rigs surrounded the property. Signs with the slogan "override the vetoes" were also spread about.

One veto concerns subsidies for biomass plants. The plants burn wood chips for power. But landowners say they also help maintain sustainable forestry practices.

"Being able to pull that low-grade wood out and enhance the growth of the good stuff," said Jasen Stock of the New Hampshire Timberland Owners Association.

Bill SB.365 requires utilities to buy power from New Hampshire's six independent biomass plants at above-market rates. But the bill, despite bipartisan support, was vetoed by Gov. Chris Sununu, R-New Hampshire.

"Just since the veto, we've had three power plants stop receiving wood," Stock said.

Robert Lussier manages one of those plants in Tamworth.

"We are offline in reserve status and that is due to the fact that power prices don't warrant us operating," Lussier said.

The subsidies help fill the gap. Lussier says if they go away and the plants fold, 20 full-time employees at his plant will lose their jobs and the grid will lose about 10 percent of its energy.

"In cold snaps and in times of significant natural gas consumption, these biomass plants play a huge role in supplying electricity to the local grid," Lussier said.

Stock offers different numbers.

"We are going to lose over 900 jobs, $253 million in economic activity," he said.

But Sununu says that the biomass industry has already received billions in subsidies over the last several decades, which he says is driving up electricity prices. He says the cost is passed onto consumers in the form of higher rates.

Sununu said this week that when it comes to keeping costs down, everyone has to do their part.

"The New Hampshire timber owners' letter to me said it would affect their revenue by about 3 percent. That is something they can manage, too. That is absolutely something they can manage, too, and those are their words, not mine," the governor said.

Ultimately, it will it will be up to lawmakers to decide. A vote to possibly override the governor's vetoes takes place Sept. 13.

Solar energy advocates were also in Concord Thursday, showing their support for a net metering bill the governor vetoed, as well. It would require utilities to buy up to 5 megawatts of power from its customers with solar panels. The current net metering cap is 1 megawatt.

"A 1-megawatt solar array is not enough to supply a load for a manufacturing facility or a large high school even, and so, municipalities and businesses in New Hampshire have been looking to be able to raise this per-project cap for allowable net-metering in New Hampshire," said Madeleine Mineau of the New Hampshire Sustainable Energy Association.

Currently, solar only makes up one half of 1 percent of New Hampshire's overall electricity generation.