Opinion: With HB 142, it’s about value and a solution

By KEVIN AVARD

Published: 07-14-2023 6:00 AM

Sen. Kevin Avard, a Nashua Republican, represents District 12.

Calling House Bill 142 bipartisan legislation sells it a little short. It is accurate, to be sure. HB 142 passed the New Hampshire House and Senate with overwhelming bipartisan support. But, this bill is more than just legislation both parties can agree on.

After years of study by Republicans and Democrats, HB 142 represents the best of the legislative process: a solutions-based bill that preserves a critical baseload power producer and economic engine, while at the same time protecting ratepayers.

The governor will have his say on HB 142 soon and I stand with dozens and dozens of my Republican and Democrat colleagues in encouraging him to sign this important legislation.

The value Burgess BioPower provides speaks for itself. The 75-megawatt, wood-fired power plant in Berlin churns out 500,000-megawatt hours of renewable, price-stable, baseload power each year, enough electricity to power 67,000 homes or 10% of the homes in New Hampshire.

The fourth-largest power generator in New Hampshire, Burgess uses low-grade wood like branches, wood chips and sawdust to generate electricity. In fact, Burgess is the single largest buyer of biomass in the state, purchasing more than 800,000 tons from more than 150 New Hampshire communities, which equates to 1/3 of the state’s forest products industry.

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Further, Burgess BioPower supports more than 240 jobs statewide, generates more than $70 million in annual economic activity, and it has been the chief catalyst in reinvigorating the local economy in Berlin and throughout northern New Hampshire over the past decade.

Still, some try to boil Burgess’ biopower down to cost. Doing so is shortsighted and completely misses the mark on both the value Burgess provides and the way in which previous legislation impacts the plant.

Burgess sells its energy to Eversource at a fixed price under a long-term contract. When the plant first began operating, Eversource (then PSNH) used Burgess’ power for default service, the price most residential customers pay. That changed a few years into the contract when the Legislature determined that Eversource should stop generating power and begin a competitive bidding process for default service.

Because of this change, Burgess’ power is no longer used the same way. Ratepayers don’t benefit from the long-term price stability Burgess offers, and Burgess is responsible for repaying what are considered to be “over-market” costs.

The “day ahead market price” is the metric used to determine whether the fixed price for Burgess’ power is “over market.” But ratepayers never pay the “day ahead market price” for their power. They pay for power purchased in six-month increments based on the bidding process put in place by the Public Utilities Commission.

Sometimes good decisions have unintended consequences, and that’s certainly the case with the impact of divestiture on Burgess. We cannot go back in time with the benefit of hindsight, but as legislators, what we can do and what we have been elected to do is find solutions, and that is exactly what we did with HB 142.

HB 142 is the result of two years of collaborative work by the Legislature, the Department of Energy, and Burgess to create a path forward that removes a major financial hurdle for the plant while protecting ratepayers.

Opponents say a veto of this bill would benefit ratepayers. That is just not accurate. If HB 142 fails, customers are not going to see lower electricity rates as a result, as costs associated with HB 142 have already been paid. On the flip side, if HB 142 is enacted, ratepayers would see no additional costs whatsoever. In fact, the legislation ends all subsidies for Burgess moving forward.

New Hampshire elected officials, at all levels, run for office to solve problems. HB 142 is exactly that: a solution to a problem. We need to keep the lights on at Burgess so it can continue making sure the lights stay on across New Hampshire.

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