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AUGUST 5, 2019 -- The New Hampshire Timberland Owners Association (NHTOA) is extremely disappointed by Governor Chris Sununu’s veto of the biomass bill (House Bill 183) that had passed the state legislature with strong bipartisan support. House Bill 183 enacts the state policy (law) and will of the General Court that passed last year but was blocked by an out-of-state organization’s legal maneuvers before the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and N.H. Public Utilities Commission.
The FERC litigation, governor’s veto, and resulting plant shutdowns have hurt the state’s timberland owners who are trying to conduct sustainable forestry. The veto also inflicts real damage on New Hampshire’s $1.4 billion timber industry, the state’s third-largest industry and a direct and indirect provider of thousands of jobs, most of them in rural areas where timber is a major contributor to local economies.
Moreover, the Governor’s veto also does not consider any avoided electric costs New Hampshire ratepayers will realize by having more local home-grown power (e.g., reduced transmission/capacity, line losses, etc.), or the new costs for regional replacement capacity the state will incur due to the loss of the biomass power plants.
Similar to last year’s Senate Bill 365, which also passed the N.H. House and Senate with overwhelming bipartisan majorities, HB 183 provides a three-year bridge for New Hampshire’s six independent biomass power plants by requiring utilities to purchase baseload renewable generation credits. The bill’s costs are similar to those under SB 365. By vetoing these bills, the Governor has put at risk thousands of jobs and hundreds of millions of dollars of economic activity. This veto will harm New Hampshire families that depend on those jobs.
“What is especially upsetting about last year’s and now this year’s veto of the biomass bills is the lack of recognition of the economic contribution from the state’s working forests, biomass power plants, and the thousands of hard working men and women who make their living in our forests and mills,” said Jasen Stock, NHTOA executive director.
These economic contributions are real and significant. According to a 2016 Plymouth State University economic study, just the six independent biomass power plants covered in HB 183 support 931 jobs and produce $254.5 million in annual economic activity. Biomass power plants consume more than 40 percent of all the timber harvested each year in New Hampshire. The low-grade markets these power plants support underpin the state’s forest products and sustainable forestry economy. In short, without viable markets for low-grade wood, there is no incentive for timberland owners to practice sustainable forest management.
“We thank the thousands of NHTOA members and supporters who helped us override last year’s veto of SB 365 and ask that you be ready to weigh in again this year as we work to overturn the Governor’s veto of HB 183 when the General Court reconvenes next month,” Stock commented. “In the meantime, as you meet candidates for all levels of state office, please take the time to impress upon them the importance of these bills to our communities and livelihoods. We look forward to overturning this veto and passing this bipartisan bill into law.”
Michael O’Leary’s place of employment doesn’t, at first, look like part of the forest-products industry. The facility is dominated by a huge, Titanic-size smokestack, and seriously thick electrical wires and cables line their way into the property like cabling for a monster stage set. There’s nary a log to be seen — but there is an impressively large pile of woodchips at Bridgewater Power.
“These biomass energy plants, like Bridgewater Power, are very much an extension of the forest products industry,” he says. “I don’t think they were always seen that way, but in my career here I hope I have helped the industry make that connection, because it’s a great connection. What happens at the biomass plants has a real impact on the industry.”
That’s no exaggeration. Without the market for woodchips supported by New Hampshire’s biomass energy plants, the market for low-grade wood, which comprises three-quarters of all the wood harvested in the state, would seriously decline, perhaps even collapse. That’s why O’Leary was at the forefront of last year’s effort, supported by the New Hampshire Timberland Owners Association, to pass Senate Bill 365, which requires Eversource, the state’s largest utility, to establish power contracts with the state’s six independent biomass energy plants, including Bridgewater. The bill passed with overwhelming bipartisan support but was vetoed by Governor Sununu (who during his first campaign for governor, in 2016, met with O’Leary and other forest industry leaders at the Bridgewater plant to extoll the virtues of homegrown biomass energy). A summer-long campaign, also spearheaded in part by O’Leary, successfully overturned the veto in September.
For his commitment to biomass and the woodchip market biomass energy plants support, Michael O’Leary is this year’s honoree with the Kendall Norcott Award. “The Kendall Norcott Award honors exceptional service to our organization and our members,” says Jasen Stock, NHTOA’s executive director, “and Michael’s tireless work on behalf of biomass and legislation supporting biomass makes him an ideal Kendall Norcott recipient. His help and support have never been less than totally consistent and invaluable.”
O’Leary has been at Bridgewater Power for 30 years, and is now the operation’s general manager. A native of Winchester, Mass., he attended the Massachusetts Maritime Academy following high school, and then spent eight years as an engineer in the merchant marine. “Actually, there are a lot of ex-merchant marines in the energy industry,” he says, noting that Robert Lussier, general manager of Pine Tree Power-Tamworth, is another. “That’s because being an engineer on a merchant ship means that you’re basically an engineer for a power plant that happens to be on the water.”
These days, Michael lives on Squam Lake in Holderness, N.H., with his wife Cindy. Michael enjoys fishing (freshwater and saltwater), golf, and boating in his spare time.
Despite the political battles and market forces that sometimes cause political and business leaders to question the viability of biomass energy, O’Leary remains optimistic about biomass’s future in New Hampshire. For one thing, the state has more trees now than it ever has; low-grade/woodchip use in biomass plants actually helps forests become healthier, as low-grade wood is removed to promote more vibrant, higher-grade growth. For another, Michael says, “Biomass is a base-loaded renewable resource. Unlike solar or wind or hydro power, the wood resource is available 24-7. It’s always there, and it is abundant. Not only that, but it helps diversify our energy market, and history has shown us that a diversified energy grid is much better than one that’s reliant on a resource like natural gas that may be cheap and available today but isn’t renewable and won’t be cheap and available forever.”
Jeb Bradley, Republican state senator for District 3, has been in politics long enough to know that campaigning, whether for an office or an issue, always involves a bit of show business. Standing in the bright sun in front of the State House in early September last year, Bradley looked out at the assembled crowd of hundreds of loggers, foresters, sawmill operations, biomass energy plant employees, renewable energy advocates, and other supporters of Senate Bill 365 and then strode up to the microphone at the podium as if Judgement was at hand. “Are you fired up?” he bellowed. “I said, ARE YOU FIRED UP??” The crowd shouted in response. “That’s good,” he said. “BECAUSE I SURE AM!”
The Sept. 6, 2018, rally was the culmination of a summer-long campaign to override Governor Chris Sununu’s veto of SB 365, which earlier had easily passed both the N.H. Senate and House with overwhelming bipartisan majorities. The bill requires Eversource, the state’s largest utility, to establish power contracts with the state’s six independent biomass energy plants, and was considered crucial legislation to support New Hampshire’s woodchip and low-grade wood markets. Without those markets, which in turn are supported by the biomass plants, the long-term viability of the state’s forest-products industry, which is the third-largest manufacturing industry in New Hampshire, was open to question.
Sen. Bradley’s unflagging support for SB 365, and his leadership of a coalition that included Sen. Bob Guida, Sen. Ruth Ward, and political leaders of both parties, was crucial not just to the bill’s success in the legislature but also to the override campaign, which ultimately proved successful when the Governor’s veto of SB 365 was overridden on Sept. 13, 2018, by a two-thirds majority by the margin of a single vote.
For his tireless efforts on behalf of SB 365 and for his longtime support of New Hampshire’s forest-products industry, Sen. Bradley is honored this year with the NHTOA President’s Award.
“I think it’s safe to say that without Jeb’s support and hard work, our industry would not be in the viable position it is in today,” said Jasen Stock, NHTOA’s executive director. “He has been a true friend — always reliable, always generous with valuable advice, and never burdened by partisanship. He truly has the best interests of the industry and of the state at heart. It is a pleasure for the NHTOA to work with leaders like Jeb.”
Sen Bradley was born in Rumford, Me., and is a graduate of Tufts University. He lived in Switzerland as a young man and worked as a street magician. In 1981 he opened an organic grocery called Evergrain Natural Foods. He is reluctant to say if there are any existing photos of him in tie-dye. He has lived in Wolfeboro, N.H., for decades.
Bradley was first elected to the State Senate in a special election in 2009 after serving in the N.H. House from 1991-2002. He was U.S. Representative for New Hampshire’s congressional District 1 from 2002 through 2006. Earlier in his career he served on Wolfeboro’s planning and budgeting boards. In the State Senate, he presently serves on the Capital Budget, Energy and Natural Resources, Health and Human Services, and Rules and Enrolled Bills committees.
Besides his work on behalf of the forest-products industry, Sen. Bradley has had a special interest in healthcare and was presented with the 2016 Founders Award by the New Hampshire Hospital Association. He has also been honored by the Business and Industry Association, the New Hampshire Veterans of Foreign Wars, the New Hampshire Association of Counties, and the New Hampshire Council on Developmental Disabilities.
He also is among the most well-known hikers in a state full of them. In January 2015 he became one of only a couple dozen hikers to have completed what’s called “The Grid,” which is hiking all 48 4,000-foot-and-higher mountain peaks in New Hampshire in every month of the year — a total 576 ascents. Twice he has hiked all 48 4,000-footers in a single winter.