N.H. legislature overrides Sununu on biomass bill

  • A trailer carrying between 25 and 30 tons of wood chips from a logging job, enough for about one hour of electric generation, is emptied at the Springfield Power biomass plant in Springfield, N.H., Wednesday, August 1, 2018. The facility is one of the 6 independent biomass plants that have been impacted by Sununu's veto of S. 365 that would have required utilities to purchase a portion of their electricity from the biomass plants. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. James M. Patterson

  • New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu makes a speech at a foreign relations luncheon, Monday, March 20, 2017 in Montreal. Sununu is in Quebec to discuss the economic relationship between the two and meet with business, political and community leaders.(Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press via AP) Ryan Remiorz

Staff reports
Published: 9/13/2018 5:42:07 PM

The New Hampshire Legislature overrode a veto of a biomass bill by Republican Gov. Chris Sununu in a big win for the forestry industry and wood-chipping plants in the state.

The vote in the House was 226-113, just meeting the required two-thirds threshold to overturn the governor’s veto. The Senate also voted to override Sununu’s veto.

The bill required utilities to purchase a portion of their electricity from the state’s wood-burning power plants. Sununu vetoed it, saying ratepayers couldn’t afford such an “immense subsidy.”

The push for override was bipartisan.

“We know that plants are closing and hard working people are being put out of work,” Sen. Majority Leader Jeb Bradley said.

“For my progressive friends who are undecided – if you want coal plants to thrive, the best way is to let biomass go under. Don’t do that. If you want New Hampshire energy to thrive, you’ll override,” Concord Demoratic Sen. Dan Feltes said.

The Business and Industry Association, the statewide chamber of commerce and a top lobbying group, decried the vote by legislators.

“Their actions will add tens of millions of dollars to the electric bills of New Hampshire ratepayers, residential and business customers alike. Lawmakers cannot have it both ways – say they will work to reduce the cost of electricity in New Hampshire – already 50-60 percent higher than the national average, year-round – then vote to subsidize a handful of businesses at the expense of everyone else. We hope the 2019-2020 legislature will put the rhetoric surrounding the need to address high electrical energy costs into action,” BIA President Jim Roche said in a statement.

Loggers and forestland owners had said Sununu’s veto of the bill, which would require utilities to purchase a portion of their electricity from the state’s wood-burning power plants, was a severe blow to the forestry industry.

“I think 1.3 million people in this state should be disappointed with the override of that bill,” Sununu said afterwards. “This was never about biomass. This was always about the ratepayer.”

Sununu said he’s going to continue to look to lower New Hampshire’s utility rates, which are among the highest in the country.

“The strategy of this administration has been clear – we’re putting the ratepayer first,” Sununu said. “We’re going to look at everything through the lens of the ratepayer. Because what folks see on that electric bill every month impacts their lives. We have one of the most robust economies in America. That’s a great thing. But when you’re paying hundreds and hundreds of dollars a month just to keep the lights on, that isn’t right. And you need leadership at the state level to keep driving forward, trying to be innovative, trying to lower these rates.”

For lawmakers, this vote was transcended the North Country, and even the debate about electricity rates.

“This bill affects virtually every community the state in some way or another,” said Sen. Bob Guida, R-Warren.”It may not be the most efficient at this time, but once lost this source of energy will not be back. It’s a permanent kill that we’re getting here if we don’t override the veto.”

In a separate vote, the House failed to override the governor’s veto on a net metering bill, coming up a few votes short. That bill, House Bill 446, would have expanded the cap on how much electricity businesses and consumers can sell back to the grid at retail prices. Presently, those who generate renewable electricity may sell up to one megawatt at the retail price; the bill would have expended that to five.

Proponents, including most of the state’s mayors, argued that raising the cap would have allowed towns and municipalities to finance major renewable energy investments. But Sununu and others said it would unfairly raise electricity prices by saddling utility companies with higher prices that would be passed down to consumers.

While the Senate approved the override effort 21-3, it died in the House – 213-128 – just under the two thirds threshold.”

(Valley News staff writer Tim Camerato contributed to this report along with Monitor staff writer Ethan DeWitt and political reporter Paul Steinhauser.)

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