3 contentious renewable energy bills head to governor’s desk

Net metering, biomass subsidies draw support, opposition

New Hampshire’s renewable industry will get a boost – though at a possible cost to ratepayers – if three bills passed last week by lawmakers are signed into law by Gov. Chris Sununu.

Senate Bill 446 is perhaps the most far-reaching, increasing fivefold the size of projects that would qualify for net metering. That’s the current law that allows homeowners, small business and groups to get credit, and sometimes even cash, for generating their own electricity.

SB 446 would extend the upper limit from 1 megawatt to 5 megawatts, allowing large businesses, municipalities and even small hydro generators to take advantage of it, paving the way for much larger renewable energy projects.

Critics, including utilities and some business groups, claim that generators are paid too much for the power, and this amounts to a subsidy paid for by other ratepayers. Advocates say that renewable energy saves money on distribution and generation costs.

The Business and Industry Association of New Hampshire, which has strong concerns about the bill, would not ask Governor Sununu to veto it, said Stefanie Lamb, BIA vice president of public policy. The concerns arise “out of whether the higher market rate for solar will impact other ratepayers.”

The BIA did call for a veto on Monday of SB 365. That bill would require Eversource to pay 80 percent of the default rate to six wood-burning plants for three years. Supporters of that bill contend that it would protect nearly 1,000 jobs, including many in the timber industry that depend on the plants as a market for their low grade wood.

The requirement “provides some certainty in this incredibly volatile electricity market,” said Jasen Stock, president of the NH Timberland Owners Association.

But the BIA contends that it would drive up rates, which could jeopardize a portion of the states 69,000 manufacturing jobs. The bill also conflicts with the state’s 10-year energy plan, which emphasizes cutting electric rates over promoting renewable energy.

The state’s electric rates are much higher than the national average, said the BIA in a letter to Sununu, “and this is a top concern for New Hampshire businesses and large energy users, particular manufacturing … it threatens economic stability as manufacturers and businesses look elsewhere to expand their operation.”

But the NHTOA argues that ratepayers subsidize other generators to stabilize the grid.

“We are looking at a loss of power plants, jobs, economic stability,” said Stock. “It’s not just a matter of dollars per megawatt.”

Finally, there is SB 577, which would continue the current subsidized rate for the Burgess BioPower plant in Berlin. The NHTOA is backing that bill for the same reasons, and the BIA has the same objections to it, but it will not be asking for a veto. That’s because the House tacked on two non-germane amendments that benefit some of its larger members, said Lamb.

One would extend the deadline prohibiting the import and sale of high-sulfur fuels, which helps an oil importer (like Sprague Resources). The other would make sure that methane gas generation could be awarded thermal renewable energy credits, which benefits the owners of landfills and the utilities that have contracts to purchase power from them.

The bills may be weeks away from reaching the governor’s desk. Once it arrives, the governor has five days to veto or sign it, or it will become law without his signature.

At deadline, the governor did not respond to request on his plans concerning the legislation.

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