Sununu vetoes bill to support New Hampshire's 6 biomass plants

By Erin Voegele | August 06, 2019

New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu vetoed a bill Aug. 5 that aimed to support operations at the state’s six biomass power plants and avoid a protracted legal flight over a biomass reform law that was enacted in 2018. The bill, HB 183, was passed with strong bipartisan support by the New Hampshire House in March and the state’s Senate in May. 

Last year, the New Hampshire legislature passed S.B. 365, a bill that aimed to require electric distribution companies to purchase energy from the state’s biomass and waste-to-energy facilities via mandated, three-year contracts. New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu, however, vetoed the bill on June 19, 2018.

Following a push from the state’s biomass industry, the legislature successfully voted to override Sununu’s veto in September 2018. Implementation of the law, however, has been delayed by litigation at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and by challenges at the Public Utilities Commission.

In an effort to avoid a protracted legal fight over S.B. 365 and a crippling shutdown of the state’s biomass energy plants, a bipartisan coalition of state senators offered an amendment to HB 183 that creates a baseload renewable energy credit to benefit biomass energy producers, allowing biomass plants to get back on-line, providing 100 MW of energy to the state’s grid, assisting the forestry industry with a low-grade market for wood chips, and putting people back to work.

The New Hampshire Timber Owners Association said Aug. 5 it is extremely disappointed with Sununu’s veto of HB 183, noting the bill “enacts the state policy (law) and will of the General Court that passed last year but was blocked by an out-of-state organization’s legal maneuvers before the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and N.H. Public Utilities Commission.”

In a statement, NHTOA said the FERC litigation, governor’s veto and the resulting plant shutdowns have hurt the state’s timber land owners who are trying to conduct sustainable forestry. The NHTOA also noted the veto inflects real damage on the state’s $1.4 billion timber industry and fails to consider any avoided electric costs New Hampshire ratepayers will realize by having more local, home-grown power, or the new costs for regional replacement capacity the state will incur due to the loss of the biomass power plants.

“What is especially upsetting about last year’s and now this year’s veto of the biomass bills is the lack of recognition of the economic contribution from the state’s working forests, biomass power plants, and the thousands of hard working men and women who make their living in our forests and mills,” said Jasen Stock, NHTOA executive director.

“We thank the thousands of NHTOA members and supporters who helped us override last year’s veto of SB 365 and ask that you be ready to weigh in again this year as we work to overturn the governor’s veto of HB 183 when the General Court reconvenes next month,” Stock continued. “In the meantime, as you meet candidates for all levels of state office, please take the time to impress upon them the importance of these bills to our communities and livelihoods. We look forward to overturning this veto and passing this bipartisan bill into law.”

Under New Hampshire law, a veto override requires a two-thirds vote from both of its legislative chambers.