N.H. Lawmakers Try New Tactic To Uphold Embattled Biomass Subsidy Plan

May 3, 2019

New Hampshire State House.
Credit Dan Tuohy / NHPR

A bipartisan group of state lawmakers hopes to revive an embattled plan to subsidize New Hampshire's wood-fired power plants.

The biomass subsidy package that narrowly passed last year over Gov. Chris Sununu’s veto has stalled amid a federal challenge.

Now the lawmakers, led by Republican Sen. Jeb Bradley, plan to add an amendment about biomass to a bill that would create a study commission on microgrids – local power systems that can run independently of the regional electric grid.

The proposed amendment is not directly related to microgrids.

It would require New Hampshire utilities – chiefly Eversource – to give wood-burning power plants money by purchasing a kind of credit.

The money would come from ratepayers, but the amendment says these credits don't denote the purchase of any actual electricity.

That makes this proposal different from last year's subsidy law, which required utilities to buy actual biomass power at a discounted rate.

Critics say it would cost ratepayers around $10 million, and they’ve filed a challenge to the law, saying it violates federal statute.

That challenge has delayed the law taking effect, which New Hampshire's biomass and timber sectors say has put them in economic limbo. Last month, they appealed their case to the state Supreme Court.

“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,” says Bradley in a statement about his new amendment.

Bradley has support from a handful of other lawmakers, including Senate Majority Leader Dan Feltes, who says the amendment creates “a mechanism that avoids the issues that gave rise to the ill-advised litigation.”

But others who’ve argued the original law is illegal say they’re still concerned about this alternative. Don Kreis is state government’s residential utility ratepayer advocate.

“Every penny of this subsidy will come out of the pockets of ratepayers,” Kreis wrote in a Tweet on Friday. “In that sense, this year’s amendment is no different from the bill the [governor] vetoed last [year].”

Americans for Prosperity state director Greg Moore also weighed in via Tweet:

“The rapacious desire to rip off ratepayers continues unabated,” Moore wrote. “What's more interesting is just how utterly shameless this iteration is,” he said.

The amendment gets a hearing in the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee at 9 a.m. Tuesday.