Why the energy vetoes must be overridden
On June 19, Governor Sununu vetoed Senate Bill 446 and Senate Bill 365, two energy bills crafted to expand self-generation for larger businesses and municipalities in New Hampshire and keep existing biomass-fueled power plants operating here. Both passed the NH House and Senate with strong bipartisan support. Neither one of these bills passed without first undergoing major changes from their original filings.
SB 446 was not without its controversy, as twice Rep. Michael Harrington (a board member of, and consultant to, the New England Ratepayers Association) attempted to amend the bill on the House floor to lower the (excess) net-metered energy rates down to ISO-NE “wholesale” power rates.
Others, like former House Speaker Bill O’Brien (a registered lobbyist for Edison Electric Institute) and Grover Norquist (president of Americans for Tax Reform), weighed in at the House to support Harrington’s amendment. The amendment was wisely defeated, and the bill passed on a voice vote.
There is quite a bit of history in New Hampshire surrounding NERA’s attempts to see net-metering rates reduced to “wholesale.”
During 2017 NH Public Utilities Commission hearings on the resetting of those rates, Harrington and Michael Sununu, a Newfields selectman, both representing NERA, advocated for “wholesale rates.” Marc Brown, NERA’s executive director, also from Newfields, has pushed for “wholesale rates” for net-metering projects for several years, but is in support of Northern Pass and new gas pipelines.
As early as April 5, 2015, Dave Solomon penned a story in the Union Leader titled: “Lawmakers want to know who is financing NERA.” It has been speculated by many that NERA is funded by investor-owned utility interests, based on the timing of its creation in 2013 just prior to the release of the Northern Pass route, and their advocacy efforts for transmission lines and pipelines.
Governor Sununu’s vetoes were wrong on the merits and wrong on the facts. His written statement that SB 446 “would cost ratepayers at least $5 to $10 million annually” is without factual evidence and was not determined by any state agency. SB 446 will in fact save money for ratepayers and taxpayers, and there are no subsidies or cost-shifting. Under SB 446, investments in self-generation projects will provide additional power, keep our energy dollars in the state, drive economic activity, support jobs, and increase state and local business tax and property tax revenues.
His assertion that SB 365, which pegs biomass-powered supply payment rates at 20 percent below default service supply rates for three years, which“would cost ratepayers approximately $25 million a year for the next three years” overstates the numbers that the Legislative Budget Assistant estimated of “$15 million to $20 million a year for Eversource and $2.7 million for Unitil” (a $1.50 impact to monthly residential bills).
Expert testimony concluded that if New Hampshire lost 100 megawatts of biomass power, the state’s ratepayers would be responsible for approximately $17 million in additional regional capacity costs – annually and forever.
Finally, the governor erroneously wrote that “Senate Bill 365 doesn’t even guarantee solvency of these facilities” and “those who supply the wood product have confirmed that the maximum impact to their revenue would be a mere 3.5 percent.” The industry and suppliers have stated that SB 365 makes them viable to continue operation.
These vetoes are very unfortunate, coming after the recent designation of Jamie Burnett, his “longtime friend and confidant” and co-chair of his transition team, as a registered lobbyist for Eversource – a company that strongly opposes these bills and that has a history (aka-Northern Pass) of providing less than accurate information to support their own energy agenda.
The Governor was ill-informed prior to making his decision to veto these important bills, which would have done much to stabilize the New Hampshire economy, offer larger businesses and municipalities the opportunity to save money on energy and economically support the very important North Country, the heart of our recreational and tourism industry.
Unfortunately, the governor can’t later decide to reverse his own vetoes. Therefore, our legislators will need to overlook “politics” in an election year and simply vote to override them in September. I especially urge my conservative Republican colleagues in the House to move past their prior amendment battles and to get on board and vote for these bills.
Harold Turner, a business owner who lives and works in Concord, is also a board member of the Granite Institute, a 501(c)(3) registered economic think tank based in New Hampshire.