My Turn: Bills would do real damage to state’s forest industry

Last modified: 2/19/2015 4:20:12 PM
In 2007, Gov. John Lynch signed into law the Renewable Portfolio Standard, a law that would assist the promotion of renewable sources of energy. All of this was attained with bipartisan understanding of our nation’s need to relieve our dependence on fossil fuels.

Now, eight years later, this highly successful legislation is threatened. Three bills have been proposed that will either dilute or repeal the law entirely. Why? A few reasons were given by the New Hampshire House Majority Leader Rep. Jack Flanagan of Brookline on Jan. 27 to the House Science, Technology and Energy committee.

First, Flanagan believes the RPS is a drag on the state’s economy because it significantly raises the price of electricity. Second, our state is losing young people who are moving out of state to find work. Third, and foremost, he does not feel that giving “subsidies” to renewable energy is acceptable.

“We shouldn’t be picking winners or losers,” he stated.

Here is why he is wrong on all counts.

Since the RPS was instituted, New Hampshire has seen new renewable energy projects developed employing people in power plants and in businesses that support these plants. In fact, New Hampshire’s forest products industry has expanded.

The Newington Schiller Station (wood chip) plant came online, which greatly bolstered the forest products industry across the region. Many small, family-owned logging companies have grown their businesses, hired more labor and purchased more equipment and trucks. Data from the New Hampshire Timberland Owners Association shows that New Hampshire’s RPS produces $186 million in economic activity annually and employs more than 500 people (most of this economic activity comes from New Hampshire’s biomass power plants).

Many of these jobs are in family-owned companies that are being transferred to the next generation. It may be true that young people are leaving the state to look for work, but if these bills are passed, young people who are earning good wages will be forced to either sign up for unemployment or leave the state.

The RPS thermal renewable energy program is helping schools, hospitals, municipal buildings and greenhouses across the state successfully convert to biomass heating, saving millions of dollars that would have been spent on fossil fuels.

Flanagan claimed that the class structures (solar, wind, biomass, etc.) of the RPS are unfair, and pick winners and losers. His bill claims to “even the playing field.” The original writers of the legislation worked hard to bring a delicate balance of fairness to the class structures that recognizes the need to promote new renewable energy projects but not at the expense of existing renewable energy projects.

If any of these bills pass, there will be a devastating effect to New Hampshire’s renewable energy and forestry industries. I believe we will see drastic downsizing in the logging industry, which will result in sawmills not having enough logs to maintain high levels of production. The loss of the forest products industry and logging infrastructure means the value of an acre of forestland to produce trees will plummet.

What does this mean? Land will revert to other uses (e.g. development). Towns will also suffer as their timber tax revenues will drop. The ramifications of destroying this highly successful bipartisan law will cause incredible harm to the slowly rebounding economy, as well as our local taxpayers and ratepayers of New Hampshire. All of this entire market is based on a local energy resource that we grow really well in New Hampshire – trees!

So I implore the Science, Technology and Energy Committee to find all these bills inexpedient to legislate. The entire forest industry, as well as the communities these companies are located in, is counting on you.

(Hunter Carbee is a professional forester who lives in Greenfield.)

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