The governor was right to veto SB 365

To the editor:

NH’s Consumer Advocate, Don Kreis, wrote an article in April for InDepthNH, “Subsidy Season at State House For Wood-Burning Plants” He reminds us there are unresolved issues with Senate Bill 365, the biomass and waste incineration bill vetoed by Governor Sununu in June.

Notably lacking in the discussion of this special interest legislation is the financial analysis of biomass and waste incineration subsidies on job retention in New Hampshire’s rural economies. The threatened closure of biomass plants has more to do with market forces and the price of natural gas during periods of low demand for electricity, than with the cost of wood fuel. Subsidies will not change that. 

If the intent is to protect New Hampshire workers, there are alternatives to ratepayer subsidies of over $20 million a year for seven of New Hampshire’s small steam boilers, inefficiently generating about 100 megawatts of electricity. The Legislature might look instead at price supports for forest products and direct investment in New Hampshire’s forests to promote renewal and regeneration for carbon capture and storage.

While some may debate whether burning wood on an industrial scale is carbon-neutral, no one can reasonably treat garbage as an “indigenous renewable fuel.” SB 365 does just that. Waste incineration will not protect many jobs, or much of anything else.

Under SB 365 some (not all) New Hampshire ratepayers would pay subsidies to protect investors without guaranteeing the market for low-grade wood. Corporate welfare for private equity firms and multinationals, pass-throughs to heavy equipment dealers and the free market for everybody else: the small logging and trucking firms and the men and women who work in the woods. 

Subsidies for biomass didn’t work well in Maine. Last year’s effort to prop up the biomass burners in New Hampshire didn’t pan out too well either.

There is little reason to believe SB365 will put New Hampshire's biomass and waste incinerators on solid financial footing without making subsidies permanent. After 20 and 30 years, that no longer seems reasonable. This bill is about re-regulating a sector of the deregulated market to cover investors’ stranded costs by extending a ratepayer funded bailout. There were members of the General Court in office when deregulation was passed 20 years ago who are still serving today. At least one of them, a co-sponsor of SB 365, has received significant campaign contributions from individuals and companies associated at one time or another with the waste and biomass industries. Go figure.

Since the introduction of SB 365 early in the 2018 legislative session, through House and Senate hearings and passage and now with the debate over the governor’s veto, little attention has been directed towards the subsidies for Wheelabrator’s trash incinerator in Concord, a major source of pollution in the Merrimack River Valley. The proponents of SB 365 in the forest and renewable energy industries seem to see no problem with asking ratepayers around the state to kick in up to $2.7 million a year to Energy Capital Partners to keep Wheelabrator’s 30-year-old trash burner operating in the Capital Region. Thirty years of burning who knows what from who knows where in New Hampshire’s capital city is enough.

Governor Sununu got SB 365 right.

John Tuthill

Acworth

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