New Hampshire senate passes amended bill to aid biomass plants

By Erin Voegele | May 28, 2019

The New Hampshire Senate has voted in favor of a bill amendment that aims to support operations at the state’s six biomass power plants and avoid a protracted legal fight over a biomass reform law that was enacted in 2018.

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.  

“The biomass industry is at a crisis point, and these legal challenges are undermining jobs in the forest products industry and reliability in New Hampshire’s generation mix,” said N.H. Sen. Jeb Bradley, in a statement issued in early May.

“These delays prevent the plants from operating under the law’s benefits and, instead, force the plants into economic shutdown,” Bradley continued. “The litigation efforts are causing major job losses and issues in our forest economy.”

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.

“Consistent with recent case law, this amendment will create a ‘baseload renewable energy credit’ to be sold to existing utilities, thus creating a mechanism that avoids the issues that gave rise to the ill-advised litigation,” explained Senate Majority Leader Dan Feltes. “This is about standing up for the hard-working men and women of New Hampshire. We are focused on preserving jobs, protecting an annual economic benefit of $254 million dollars, and maintaining sustainable forest management.”

“Lawmakers spoke clearly last year, the state supports biomass,” said Senator Martha Fuller Clark, chairwoman of the Senate Energy & Natural Resources Committee. “We will move forward with this amendment to protect New Hampshire jobs and New Hampshire-based renewable energy.”

“Representing a rural district in the northern part of the State – this amendment is critical to my constituents,” said Senator Bob Giuda. “This delay is unacceptable—we must act to protect the small businesses, landowners and the families that rely on the timber industry to survive.”

“Promoting ‘home-grown’ renewable energy policy is not a partisan issue. It serves the State by creating good jobs and benefitting our economy. The health of our forests is critical to our state in terms of the environment and our tourist economy. Biomass is an important tool for managing our forests that we cannot lose,” stated Senator David Watters.

The New Hampshire senate approved the amended version of H.B. 183 on May 23. The state’s House of Representatives will now consider the amended bill.