Governor vetoes two renewable energy bills

Sununu rejects net metering, special rate for wood-burning plants


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Gov. Chris Sununu has vetoed two of three controversial renewable energy bills, saying they would cost ratepayers $100 million over three years.

But he remained silent on a third bill, which would continue subsidies for the Burgess BioPower plant in Berlin.

Senate Bill 446, perhaps the most far-reaching of the three, would have increased fivefold the size of projects that would qualify for net metering, the current law that allows homeowners, small businesses and groups to get credit, and sometimes even cash, for generating their own electricity.

SB 446 would have extended 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.  It would also have helped out small hydro projects.

Sununu said that SB 446 would cost ratepayers “at least $5 to $10 million annually and is a handout to large-scale energy developers. These immense projects should use incentives already available and compete on their own merits.”

He added that “businesses and working families of our state should not have to provide additional unjust taxation through higher electric bills. We should take the time necessary to study the effects of the recent Public Utilities Commission order on net metering before massively increasing the scale of projects that rely on ratepayer subsidies.”

The second, SB 365, would have required Eversource to pay 80 percent of the default rate to six wood-burning power plants for three years. Supporters of that bill contended 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.

But Sununu said the bill would create “another immense subsidy for New Hampshire's six independent biomass plants. It would cost New Hampshire ratepayers approximately $25 million a year over the next 3 years.” 

He also said it wouldn’t even help the plants that much with a “maximum impact to revenue that would be a mere 3.5 percent.”

Sununu was silent on SB 377, the most narrow but most politically sensitive bill, which would continue a subsidy for the BioPower plant. The bill might be spared because of two amendments tacked on to the measure.

One would extend the deadline prohibiting the import and sale of high-sulfur fuels, which helps oil importers (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 vetoed bills had the strong support of the NH Clean Tech Council and the NH Timberland Owners Association, but the Business and Industry Association opposed SB 365, and had concerns, but did not take a position on, SB 446.   Conservative groups applauded the move.  The Josiah Bartlett Center praised the governor for not giving in to “tremendous pressure from public interest groups.”   

And Americans for Prosperity-New Hampshire, a group backed by the Koch brothers, who have large fossil fuel interests, issued a statement 20 minutes after the veto thanking the governor for the veto. 

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