Next week, when lawmakers are expected to vote on whether to override Governor Sununu’s vetoes of dozens of bills, Forest Society President Jane Difley will be rooting for HB 183.
“This would help support the six biomass plants in New Hampshire for a period of time,” says Difley, who is retiring in October after 23 years leading the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests.
(Difley recently joined The Exchange to discuss her tenure at the Society. You can hear the full conversation here.)
“HB 183 has in the past had bipartisan support," Difley said on The Exchange. "I think our legislature understands the importance of this part of the forest-products industry to landowners, to the state's economy, for many jobs. It's important for maintaining forests.”
The vetoed bill would have required utilities to charge ratepayers extra to subsidize six wood-fired power plants. Gov. Sununu said in his veto message, “The bill picks winners and losers in the competitive energy market.” He also expressed concerns about the costs and vetoed a similar bill in 2018. Lawmakers overrode that veto by a single vote but the law is now caught up in the courts.
The NH Business and Industry Association supported the HB 183 veto, citing concerns about higher energy costs. The New Hampshire Timberland Owners Association is hoping for an override.
Meanwhile, biomass is somewhat controversial, with some environmental groups arguing it’s not carbon neutral and that there are much cleaner ways to produce energy.
Difley agrees biomass is not perfect and doesn’t see it as a permanent or long-term answer to energy needs. “But it's a really important fuel right now as we make the transition from more traditional fossil fuels to other sources of energy. And there are lots of studies, some of them conflicting, that show that burning wood for fuel contributes much less to greenhouse gases than fossil fuels.”
In addition, says Difley, supporting biomass means supporting the forest-products industry. “And we're not talking about burning high quality logs. We're talking about landowners burning 'thinnings' -- to improve the quality of their forest for future generations.”
Since 2005, forest coverage has increased in New Hampshire, according to some research, Difley said. And those trees absorb carbon. “So, while burning wood is putting carbon into the air -- that's true -- the forests are also taking it up. When you burn fossil fuels, there's no cycle like that. The carbon is just out there.”
The biomass legislation passed unanimously in the Senate earlier in the year and passed in the House on a 222 to 123 vote in June, short of the two-thirds majority needed for an override.