The House of Representatives has an opportunity to support New Hampshire jobs. Senate Bill 129 (The N.H. Clean Energy Jobs & Opportunity Act of 2017), the product of almost a year of hard work and compromise among numerous stakeholders, will be voted on June 1. This much-needed, bipartisan clean energy bill advances biomass jobs, forest products jobs, sawmill jobs, clean energy jobs, and solar jobs. These are good jobs and good industries right here in the Granite State.
SB-129 makes an important fix to New Hampshire’s renewable portfolio standards law (also called the “RPS”) that will help sustain the biomass power plants. Good paying New Hampshire jobs are literally at stake right now. One needs to look no further than the biomass power plant in Alexandria, to see why SB-129 is necessary. The plant recently suspended operation. These plants support over 900 jobs and over $250 million yearly in economic activity in our State. SB-129 is critical to their survival. Without SB-129 the remaining biomass plants are likely to close by 2018 and these jobs will vanish.
The biomass industry is also critical to New Hampshire’s state-wide natural resource-based economy and its scenic character. It is the one area where our energy policy intersects with our natural resource policy. Not only does the biomass industry produce electricity, but the biomass plants also serve as the market for low-grade wood. With NH being the second most forested state in the country, biomass serves as a critical market for the state’s logging, forestry, sawmill, and landowner communities. Proper forestry practices produce healthy forests for recreation, wildlife habitat and an annual $1.4 billion forest products industry.
SB-129 also supports and advances over 1,200 solar related jobs in New Hampshire. Solar continues to be a growing industry in New Hampshire. More jobs have been added in the clean energy job sector than in most other N..H. industries. These jobs also appeal to a younger workforce — something New Hampshire desperately needs. SB-129 supports our solar industry and also expands its benefit to low-to-moderate income residential customers. As we continue to promote New Hampshire as the state to locate business, we need to focus on growing our clean energy sector. Without these opportunities, clean energy companies will continue to shift and expand jobs in neighboring states.
Opponents have tried to label this bill as a “hidden tax.” This is far from the truth. The RPS was passed over 10 years ago. The programs and industries that have participated in the RPS have yielded significant benefit to the state’s ratepayers in terms of energy diversification, state economic activity, thousands of jobs, and reducing peak demand, all which contribute to lowering electric rates and promotion of a strong New Hampshire economy. The RPS must be updated to remain competitive in our region. Many residential, commercial, municipal, and industrial customers have taken advantage of the RPS to lower their electricity cost. We want this to continue.
How do you determine whether a law and program is worth the investment? We look at the return on investment. Although RPS opponents continue to call it a subsidy and claim higher rates, the fact is our state’s renewable energy industries and programs provide value in lowering bills, creating and sustaining New Hampshire jobs, and providing economic activity that has a ripple effect in our economy. If we lost the biomass industry tomorrow we will see small business bankruptcies, lost taxes, lost jobs and an increase in unemployment in every region of our state. Instead, our support of these renewable energy industries means we continue to receive the benefits of reduced electricity costs brought about by insuring we have effective and updated renewable energy policies, like those in SB-129. At the end of the day, the benefits in terms of jobs and economic activity FAR outweigh the cost.
It is time to move forward with this bi-partisan effort to support and sustain our renewable energy industries. It’s time to pass SB-129 and support our N.H. energy and related sector jobs.
(Jeb Bradley, R-Wolfeboro, and Dan Feltes, D-Concord, serve in the New Hampshire Sentate.)