Keene Mayor Kendall W. Lane is one of 13 New Hampshire mayors who have signed on to a letter urging state legislators to override Gov. Chris Sununu’s recent vetoes of two Senate energy bills.
One of those bills, SB 446, would have expanded the state’s net-metering program. The other, SB 365, would have required utility companies to purchase power from New Hampshire’s independent biomass power plants.
“We believe strongly that clean and local renewable energy and greater efficiency in how we use all energy will be vitally important to our cities’ future economic vitality and environmental quality,” the letter reads. “As such, we favor policies enacted at the state level that reinforce existing renewable electric generation, foster expansion of new renewable energy technologies through net metering, and greater investments in efficiency.”
Lane said Wednesday he joined the effort after a series of conversations with Mayor Tony Giunta of Franklin, who drafted the letter with Karen Weston, Dover’s mayor.
“At the municipal level, we are directly affected by this,” Lane said. “We’re always looking for alternative energy sources. These bills directly affect our ability at the local level to do projects that reduce our production of greenhouse gases.”
SB 446 would have increased the net-metering cap for energy production levels from 1 megawatt to 5 megawatts, raising the number of customers eligible to receive above-market rates for generating their own electricity.
At present, customers with a 1-megawatt array or greater are paid a wholesale or market price for their surplus energy instead of the higher price offered under the state’s net-metering rule.
In Lane’s telling, SB 446 would allow the city to pursue large-scale solar projects that save taxpayers money and cut back on the city’s emissions.
Citing the City Council’s recent approval for a 662-kilowatt solar array set to be built on the rooftop of the city’s police and public works departments, Lane said raising the net-metering cap would allow officials to pursue even larger projects. He referenced past discussions about potential arrays at the city-owned Dillant-Hopkins Airport in North Swanzey and the transfer station on Old Summit Road, among other locations.
“Expanding the limits on net metering is critical for those projects to go forward,” he said.
While SB 365 would predominantly affect the North Country — home to much of the state’s timber industry — Lane said bolstering biomass plants is important to the state’s overall renewable energy portfolio.
“I really felt it was important that we go on the record as opposing those vetoes and supporting alternative energy sources,” he added. “These are issues that are important in the state of New Hampshire and the city of Keene.”
SB 365 would have required the state’s default electricity providers to purchase power from the biomass plants in their service areas. While the bill does not state how much power the providers would have to purchase, they would be required to do so at 80 percent of their default service rates, which vary by company.
According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, the Seabrook nuclear power plant provided 56 percent of the state’s net electricity generation in 2016. Another 25 percent came from natural gas, which has become a cheaper option for commercial providers in recent years.
Supporters of both pieces of legislation say the bills would help mitigate New Hampshire’s reliance on natural gas for electricity generation and foster a stronger renewable energy industry.
Critics, including Sununu, argue the bills amount to the government playing favorites in the state’s energy market by subsidizing biomass plants, hydropower stations and other facilities. Moreover, they say the bills would force electricity ratepayers to bear the brunt of rising costs for commercial providers.
“These bills send our state in exactly the wrong direction,” Sununu said in a news release. “We need to be taking steps to lower electric rates, not passing legislation that would cause massive increases.”
Both bills were introduced in December 2017; they passed the N.H. Senate and House in May.
Overriding a veto requires a two-thirds majority in both the House and Senate. Legislators are expected to vote on an override of both vetoes when they reconvene Sept. 13.