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Representatives from the New Hampshire Timberland Owners Association (NHTOA) and the Timber Harvesting Council (THC) took issues of concern for New Hampshire’s forest products industry to Washington, D.C., last week as they met with congressional representatives and natural resource agency officials.

Issues discussed with the staffs of Sen. Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.), Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Rep. Ann Kuster (D-N.H.), and Rep. Bruce Westerman (R-Ark.) included concerns about the expansion of the Silvio O. Conte National Wildlife Refuge, recognition of biomass energy as carbon-neutral, the proposed Youth Careers in Logging legislation, and support for the Right to Haul Act.

The NHTOA/THC contingent also met with Allen Rowley, director of forests and range management for the U.S. Forest Service, to discuss issues connected with contracting with the Forest Service for logging and also the impacts of a declining Northeast market for wood pulp. In the office of Casey Hammond, interim supervisor of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the group talked about ways to redirect funding from additional federal land acquisition for the expansion of the Conte Refuge towards land conservation programs that will maintain working forest and traditional uses (e.g. hunting, snowmobiling, hiking, etc.).

“Bringing issues critical to New Hampshire’s forest products industry to the doorstep of our representatives in the nation’s capital emphasizes their importance to our leaders who can make a real difference in helping the industry,” said Steve Patten, NHTOA’s program director and member of the group that traveled to Washington. “We were able to make some real progress on some issues, and we heard a great deal of support for the industry. It was an informative, useful, and excellent trip.”

In the photo, from left: Mike Sharp, Ben Crowell, Shaun Lagueux, Jock Harvey (NELA - Vt.), Chris Goodnow, Errol Peters, Pat Sadler (NELA - N.Y.), Rocky Bunnel, Ron Rich (NELA - Mass.), Gabe Russo (NELA - Vt.). Not pictured: Steve Patten, NHTOA (he took the photo).

 

Since 2007, New Hampshire has had a Renewable Portfolio Standard law (RPS). This law requires N.H. electricity suppliers (i.e. regulated utilities and competitive suppliers) to purchase renewable energy certificates (RECs) from eligible renewable power plants for a certain percentage of the power they supply to New Hampshire customers. It also requires N.H. electricity suppliers to make a payment to the state, called the Alternative Compliance Payment (ACP), for each REC the utility fails to purchase. And renewable power plants to must meet certain environmental clean air standards to be eligible to sell RECs. Among other power plants, the INDECK plant in Alexandria, Pine Tree Power’s Bethlehem and Tamworth plants, Bridgewater Power, and the East West Power plants in Springfield and Whitefield must reduce air emission levels to below that allowed by federal and state law to be eligible in the RPS and must do so every calendar quarter to be allowed RECs. 

The purpose of the RPS is to diversify New Hampshire’s energy mix, keep fuel and energy dollars in the local economy, create and maintain jobs in NH, support existing and new renewable power producers (such as biomass power plants), and provide a hedge for NH ratepayers against volatile fossil fuel prices. 

To achieve these policy goals, the RPS has four renewable energy classes that can produce a REC:

I. New renewable energy production (e.g. Schiller Station, Berlin Biomass, Lempster Wind, Alexandria biomass). Class 1 also contains a thermal energy provision for pellet, wood chip, solar and geothermal energy.

II. Solar electricity projects.

III. Existing biomass power plants (the plants noted above) and existing landfill methane gas.

IV. Existing small-scale hydropower.

A market provision built into the law to help control REC values is the ACP. The ACP is a payment a supplier of electricity can make to the Public Utilities Commission’s Renewable Energy Fund in lieu of purchasing RECs. The New Hampshire Legislature establishes the ACP payment schedule for each Class. Because a supplier of electricity can make an ACP in lieu of purchasing RECs, the ACP sets a ceiling price for any New Hampshire RECs. In other words, a supplier of electricity would never pay more for a REC than they would pay as an ACP.

Of particular interest to New Hampshire’s timberland owners and forest products businesses is the impact that RPS Class III has on the state’s six independent biomass power plants noted in (c) above. Given the very low wholesale electricity prices since 2015, having an adequately priced REC market makes the difference between a biomass power plant’s ability to run economically or shut down as economically unviable. To insure the REC market is adequate, in 2017 the NHTOA seeks and supports legislation to modify the RPS. To put it simply, without a working RPS law in place, loggers, landowners, and wood processors will lose markets for low-grade timber as biomass power plants close. Moreover, in such an event, New Hampshire will lose all the jobs and economic activity these power plants and their fuel suppliers provide.   

Why now and what is the fix?

Three factors drive the need to act now.

1. Wholesale electricity prices are at historic lows and do not even cover the cost of purchasing biomass fuel

2. New Hampshire’s RPS cannot sustain the existing biomass power plants, and the associated fuel procurement jobs in 2017, unless the Class III ACP is adjusted. As presently written, the ACP will decrease significantly in 2018.

3. RPS markets in other states are generally not available to the pre-2006 vintage existing biomass power plants (e.g. Massachusetts precludes them by definition). They have been eligible in Connecticut but that state has passed a law to phase-down REC values for those plants in the near term which could be 2018   

Combined, these factors mean that continued operation of these biomass plants is at risk. To fix this, the Class III ACP value needs to be adjusted upward. Increasing Class III ACP values will increase Class III REC values, which will help counter the effects of the low wholesale electricity prices and scheduled Connecticut REC value declines.   

Senate Bill 129 is the fix

Senate Bill 129 seeks to modify two portions of the RPS, Class II solar and Class III biomass. The NHTOA strongly endorses the Class III modifications and takes no position on  the Class II modifications. The Class III modifications will:

a. Increase the Class III ACP from $45/REC to $55/REC. This will make New Hampshire’s ACP values consistent with Connecticut and at a level that should produce REC values needed for biomass power plant continued operations.

b. Modify the eligibility standards to limit the amount of landfill gas (methane) that will qualify for Class III. This modification will help to provide capacity in Class III for biomass power plants and smaller landfill gas power producers, like those in N.H.

Take Action

Senate bill 129 is currently being heard in the New Hampshire Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. Please take a few minutes and send the committee an email,

1. Thank them for sponsoring Senate Bill 129 (all the committee members are co-sponsors),

2. Express your support for the biomass provisions of the bill, and

3. Explain why biomass is important to you and your business

Here are the committee email addresses:

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    Address your email to:

    Senator Kevin Avard, Chairman

    Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee   

    New Hampshire Statehouse, Room 103

    Concord, NH 03301

 

In your email:

1.      Thank the Chairman and members of the committee for co-sponsoring Senate Bill 129

2.      Introduce yourself and company

  • Town you are based in, and towns where you work (we want to show that biomass harvesting occurs across the state),
  • # employees (gross pay roll figure would be good),
  • # of subcontractors your business supports (e.g. how much you spend for repairs, fuel, how many logging crews you keep busy, etc.),
  • Volume of wood you move or mill annually,
  • Acres of timberland you manage.

3.      Clearly state you support Senate Bill 129, as it will ensure the continued operation of the state’s biomass power plants. The success of your and your client’s business depends on them to help:

  • Execute forestry prescriptions,
  • Cash-flow timber sales,
  • Conduct wildlife habitat work,
  • Manage forest pest outbreaks,
  • More aesthetically pleasing timber sales,
  • Create recreational trails,
  • Manage your mill waste.

 

 

To read the testimony that Jasen Stock, the NHTOA's executive director, presented today (Feb. 14, 2017) to the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committe on Senate Bill 129, click here.

If passed, SB 129 shores up support for New Hampshire's biomass power plants. Facing historically low wholesale electricity prices, and with Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) laws in adjacent states phasing out the eligibility of New Hampshire biomass plants, SB 129 seeks to bolster the Class III (existing biomass power plants) portion of New Hampshire’s RPS. This will enable the state’s six independent biomass power plants to continue operations.

 

Terrible weather outside could not keep landowners, loggers, foresters, sawmill operators, and others in the forest products industry from showing up in force on Tuesday, Feb. 7, 2017, in Representatives Hall in the New Hampshire State Capitol to tell the House Science, Technology, and Energy Committee why HB 225 is a bad bill. More than 40 people testified on the bill, almost all of them in opposition.

The proposed legislation would repeal the Renewable Portfolio Standard law, causing the industry to lose a valuable market for wood chips and pulp, as biomass energy plants that burn pulp and chips depend on the RPS law. The law provides economic incentives for the development and retention of renewable energy power plants (e.g. biomass electric power plants, biomass thermal plants, solar, small hydroelectric) by creating a marketplace for the sale of and the purchase of renewable energy certificates (RECs) by utilities and competitive energy suppliers.

Marcella Perry, retired chief financial officer at LaValley-Middleton Building Supply and DiPrizio Pine Sales, explained to committee members why HB 225 would be so devastating to the industry: "Having a viable wood chip and pulp market means we have viable lumber markets. And those markets mean jobs, plain and simple."

In prepared testimony, the New Hampshire Timberland Owners Association stated:

"These power plants provide a key market for low-grade timber. According to the U.S. Forest Service’s forest inventory analysis (FIA) data, almost two-thirds of the standing timber in New Hampshire is considered low-grade (unable to produce a sawlog). Without markets for low-grade timber, landowners and land managers are unable to economically improve forest health and vigor, and in many instances entire woodlots go unmanaged; weeding and thinning of diseased and malformed timber does not occur, weakening these woodlots both environmentally and ecologically. Worse, timber lots are sometimes 'high-graded,' where the logger 'cuts the best and leaves the rest,' resulting in genetically inferior timber stands with poor growing stock." 

"When low-grade timber markets diminish, New Hampshire’s sawmill industry suffers for two reasons: log supply and mill waste disposal. As mentioned above, when low-grade timber markets are devalued or disappear, entire woodlots do not see any management. With no timber, including sawlogs, being harvested from these woodlots, sawmills have difficulty procuring sawlogs to mill. Secondly, when low-grade wood markets shrink, mills are unable to find homes for their chipped slabs and sawdust. Currently, we are seeing some mills already stockpiling chips and sawdust, because their delivery quotas to biomass power plants or the few remaining pulp/paper mills have been cut."