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Timber Industry Gears Up To Revive Vetoed Biomass Bill

Annie Ropeik

New Hampshire’s timber sector is rallying around a plan to sustain the biomass industry that Governor Chris Sununu vetoed last month.

They filled a warehouse in Bristol Thursday night for a strategy session with legislators on overturning that veto and passing the bill – which would require utilities to buy more woodchip-fired biomass energy.

In rejecting the bill, Sununu argued it would cost ratepayers too much. But loggers, landowners and suppliers say the benefits would far outweigh the costs.

They say biomass is their only viable market to make sure the low-grade wood that makes up two-thirds of New Hampshire forests gets harvested.

Since the veto came through, half the state's biomass plants have temporarily stopped taking deliveries of new low-grade timber. 

“We’re already starting to see, on the landscape, timber sales and good forestry get deferred because there’s literally no place to take that low-grade,” says Jasen Stock, executive director of the state Timberland Owners Association.

Credit Annie Ropeik / NHPR
Timber business owners talk with state legislators in a logging warehouse in Bristol about overturning the veto of the biomass bill.

But he emphasized their view that this is not just a logging issue, or one limited to the North Country.

Stock says Hillsborough and Merrimack Counties are top biomass producers, and he says the $1.4-billion forest products industry is ingrained in New Hampshire’s economy.

Tree farm owner Tom Thomson, son of former governor Meldrim Thomson, argues the timber industry and biomass offset local taxes with timber tax revenue, and support myriad suppliers, administrative businesses, local restaurants and renewable energy.

“That interconnection has been woven together in this state, so that natural resource that we produce in this state that grows in our backyards can be harvested and the dollars flow right back into the local communities,” Thomson says.

And he says landowners like him might have to or choose to counter any blow to biomass by closing their properties to recreation, or clearing their land for development – in his words, growing houses instead of trees.

“These are the two tools that I have left in my toolbox, which I refuse to use, but I may have to,” Thomson told the crowd, holding up “no trespassing” and “for sale” signs to applause. "I want the governor to know that." 

In the coming weeks, the industry plans to seek thousands of signatures for a petition, call state legislators, write letters and stage rallies to drum up opposition to the veto.

Credit Annie Ropeik / NHPR
Loggers, their families and others in their sector listen during a strategy session on overturning a veto of a bill supporting the biomass industry.

They also want lawmakers to overturn Sununu’s veto of a bill expanding the state’s net metering program, which lets ratepayers, businesses and towns generate their own renewable energy -- including biomass -- and put it back into the grid in exchange for lower rates.

Both bills originally passed the legislature with bipartisan support.

State Sen. Bob Giuda, a Republican from Warren, said Thursday night he believes many of his colleagues already want to overturn the biomass veto, and urged attendees to focus their messaging on the state House of Representatives.

Overriding any veto will require a two-thirds majority of legislators present in both chambers. Those votes typically come in mid-September, after the state primary.

Annie has covered the environment, energy, climate change and the Seacoast region for NHPR since 2017. She leads the newsroom's climate reporting project, By Degrees.
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