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The New Hampshire Timber Harvesting Council announces the establishment of a new program to provide funding for short-term financial aid to families of NHTOA members who are injured on the job. The program, Helping Out Loggers in Distress (HOLD), is designed to bridge the gap until Workers’ Compensation or other aid takes effect. The HOLD assistance will be in the form of in-kind donations such as gift cards and personal services; funds will be raised via a check box on PLP class registrations. Voluntary donations to this fund will also be accepted at any time.
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.”