CONCORD, N.H. — The New Hampshire Timberland Owners Association (NHTOA) is extremely disappointed by Governor Chris Sununu’s veto of two renewable energy bills, Senate bills 365 and 446, that had passed the state legislature with strong bipartisan support. Senate Bill 365 would have allowed the state’s six independent biomass plants to sell power at a 20 percent discount from the rate charged by Eversource to residential customers. SB 446 would have allowed New Hampshire businesses to increase investments to control their energy costs. 

By vetoing these bills, the Governor puts at risk thousands of jobs and hundreds of millions of dollars of economic activity.

“What is especially upsetting is the amount of misinformation in the Governor’s veto message,” said Jasen Stock, NHTOA executive director. “If one is going to veto a bill affecting N.H. families and eliminating N.H. jobs, at least do it with an accurate understanding of the bill and the industry affected. For example, the veto message concludes that SB 365 does not guarantee solvency of the biomass plants based on what a landowner receives for wood harvest income. It completely misses the fact that the power plant revenue comes from the sale of power it has nothing to do with the landowner revenue. And to veto a bill in the name of economic prosperity, at least acknowledge the economic contributions timberland owners, the forest products industry, and small-scale renewable power projects make to the state.”

Mr. Stock went on to state that “conspicuously absent from the veto message’s analysis are the economic contributions timberland owners, the forest products industry, and small-scale renewable power projects make to the state, and the negative economic impacts his vetoes will have on thousands of families, hundreds of businesses, and rural economics across the state.”

These economic contributions are real and significant. According to a 2016 Plymouth State University economic study, the six independent biomass power plants covered in Senate Bill 365 support 931 jobs and produce $254.5 million in annual economic activity. Furthermore, the veto of Senate Bill 446 stifles a bipartisan effort by House and Senate lawmakers to spur private investment by municipalities and businesses to expand existing, or install new, small renewable energy projects whether they be hydro, solar, wind, or biomass-fueled cogeneration.  This bill allows  larger electricity users, including sawmills and paper mills to make investments to, reduce their energy costs, become more energy independent, and insulate themselves from electric price volatility and higher transmission costs.  The investment would drive economic activity, support jobs, and increase state and local business tax and property tax revenues, all while avoiding subsidies and cost-shifting. 

Biomass power plants consume more than 40 percent, by volume, of all the timber harvested each year in New Hampshire. The low-grade markets these power plants support underpin the state’s forest products and sustainable forestry economy. In short, without viable markets for low-grade wood, there is no incentive for timberland owners to practice sustainable forest management. Moreover, many landowners and members of the timber industry see these vetoes as a thumb in the eye of the thousands of hardworking men and women who get up each day to work in the mills and forests of the state and the tens of thousands of timberland owners whose land is open for public recreation.

“I have already had landowners contact me stating that if this is how the Governor treats sustainable forestry and timberland owners, perhaps I should veto his Trails Bureau and Fish and Game Department from using my private land to promote their programs,” Stock commented.

Especially perplexing are the comments about the impacts these two bills would have on electricity bills. First, the veto message claims the bills would cause “massive increases” in the cost of electricity — but the N.H. Public Utilities Commission’s fiscal calculations show the opposite to be true. Second, the reference to last year’s “Senate Bill 129 subsidy” is erroneous, because SB 129 provided no “subsidy” at all; prices under the SB 129 program have actually decreased. Third, as noted, the veto message’s connection between power plant solvency and wood supplier revenues makes absolutely no sense. Finally, the Governor’s economic impact calculation does not consider any avoided electric costs New Hampshire ratepayers will realize by having more local, home-grown power (e.g. reduced transmission/capacity, line losses, etc.), or the new costs for regional replacement capacity the state will incur due to the loss of the biomass power plants.

“I want to say thank you to the thousands of NHTOA members and supporters who communicated the importance of these bills to the Governor,” Stock concluded. “Although our comments did not sway him, please be ready to weigh in as we work to overturn these vetoes when the General Court reconvenes this fall. In the meantime, as you meet candidates for all levels of state office, please take the time to impress upon them the importance of these bills to our communities and livelihoods. We look forward to overturning the Governor’s misguided and misinformed vetoes and passing these two important bipartisan bills into law.”