Group Asks Feds To Void New State Biomass Power Subsidy

Nov 9, 2018

A lobbying group that has supported Gov. Chris Sununu’s energy policies wants federal regulators to invalidate a new state subsidy for the biomass industry.

The legislature passed the subsidy by one vote, over Sununu’s veto earlier this year.

It will require utilities to buy energy from biomass and trash-burning power plants at a discounted rate, passing the extra cost onto customers, for the next three years.

Proponents say the state’s forest products industry needs those plants as a market for low-grade timber.

Now, the nonprofit New England Ratepayers Association has asked federal regulators to declare that the bill violates federal energy laws.

Association president Marc Brown says essentially, the bill has the state set a wholesale energy rate -- something only the feds can legally do or delegate.

“If the legislature files a bill or builds in the budget some support for the forest products industry, we’re not going to oppose it,” he says. “But doing it through electricity rates was, in our opinion, bad for businesses and not the right way to do it.”

Brown says the subsidy will increase energy costs by six figures for some of his group’s commercial and industrial members, who he declined to name.

Another bill passed this year extends a deal between Eversource and the Burgess BioPower biomass plant in Berlin. Brown says they opposed that bill too, but it amounts to a "voluntary agreement" lawfully administered by the state Public Utilities Commission, and so they left it out of this request. 

Federal regulators have set a Dec. 3 deadline for any other parties to file comments on the filing.

If those regulators decline to issue the order Brown has requested, he says it would set a troublesome precedent and he might take the matter to court.

A lawyer for the state’s biomass and timber industries did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The New Hampshire Public Utilities Commission's consumer advocate and Eversource have both sought to intervene in the federal petition. 

This story has been updated to include information about intervenors in the Ratepayers' request.