By THOMAS P. CALDWELL
LACONIA DAILY SUN
The future of an energy bill that offers incentives for solar and biomass energy remains uncertain as Gov. Chris Sununu weighs the overall impact of the legislation on the cost of electricity.
Senate Bill 129 aims to see that at least 15 percent of the state’s renewable energy fund goes toward the financing of community solar projects, as well as increasing the value of renewable energy credits for biomass plants.
Sununu, in an interview with the Conway Daily Sun, expressed concern about offering “a raw subsidy to biomass” without additional laws to benefit ratepayers.
“Nobody wanted to go forward with any of the things that cut rates,” he told the newspaper. “They just wanted to go forward with the piece that increased rates. That’s a tough one." Sununu wants to see offsetting benefits for ratepayers. “You can’t just ask the ratepayers to keep paying more and more,” he said.
Proponents of the bill argue that the renewable energy credits, or RECs, are not subsidies, but incentives that pay dividends to the state.
Shelagh Connelly of Resource Management, Inc., which offers advice on agricultural, landscaping, and municipal resources, says, “SB 129 is critical to the survival of New Hampshire’s six independent biomass plants and to New Hampshire’s timberland owners and the forest products businesses that rely on the low-grade timber markets these plants provide. Without those plants, New Hampshire will lose most of its low-grade timber markets. Without these markets, forestry, logging, and sawmilling will look very different a few months from now. Foresters and landowners will lose an important tool for sustainable forestry, loggers will lose an important market for their timber, and sawmills will lose an important market for mill waste. And farmers will lose wood ash.”
Bob Berti, a long-time forester and fuel procurement manager for the Bridgewater Power Company, said the credits, while necessary for the profitability of biomass plants such as the one in Bridgewater, enable the industry as a whole to put more money back into the economy.
“That far outweighs any payments that are made,” he said.
Berti said New Hampshire’s forest-based industry contributes $1.4 billion annually to the state’s economy. The North East State Foresters Association puts the total economic value of direct sales and employment in forest products at $2.259 billion annually, nearly four percent of the Gross State Product.
Bristol forester Shaun Lagueux said biomass plants, which burn low-grade wood, are important in maintaining good forestry practices. The plants rely on renewable energy credits to offset the cost of pollution-control equipment.
Because New Hampshire has a cap on the rate energy suppliers pay for RECs, biomass plants have come to rely on REC sales to Massachusetts and Connecticut, where they could get higher prices for the certificates. Now Massachusetts has stopped buying RECs from biomass plants, and Connecticut is due to stop purchasing them by the end of 2018, Lagueux said.
The Indeck Energy plant in Alexandria has shut down operations, at least temporarily, and other biomass plants may follow without the ability to utilize RECs.
For loggers, that would further reduce the price they get for wood chips, and pulpwood prices also have been dropping. Without the ability to get rid of that low-grade wood, which can amount to between 50 and 80 percent of the harvest, both trees and employment are in peril, Lagueux said.
HB 129 would increase the ceiling on RECs from $45 to $55.
“Keeping the biomass plants open is a big thing,” said Lagueux. “It enables us to do some good forestry. Removing as much low-grade material as possible improves the forest.”
Berti said New Hampshire has more foresters per acre than any other state in the nation, making for a “quiet but viable” industry that has improved the quality of its trees while also improving the quality of the water going into the watersheds. He boasted that New Hampshire has the cleanest water in the United States.
The legislation also seeks to give low- to moderate-income residents the ability to afford solar arrays, and it provides that all members of a group solar project will receive credits on their electric bills for the power they put into the electric grid.
Opponents argue that those credits force other ratepayers to pay higher fees, and that the proposed repeal of the Electricity Consumption Tax will not be enough to offset those increases.
Attempts to reach Gov. Sununu for further comment have been unsuccessful.
- Written by Rick Green
- Category: Local News
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