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CONCORD, N.H. — A strong bipartisan effort to pass H.B. 2936, the Resilient Federal Forests Act of 2017, was applauded today by the New Hampshire Timberland Owners Association. The bill, which has already passed the House of Representatives and now moves on to the Senate, would expedite and improve forest management activities in federal forests. The NHTOA is dedicated to promoting sustainable forest management on both public and private land.
Jasen Stock, NHTOA’s executive director, especially singled out Rep. Annie Kuster (D-N.H.) and her staff for their work to gain passage of the bill, which was introduced in June by Rep. Bruce Westerman (R-Ariz.). “Over many years, Congresswoman Kuster has been unflinching in her support of forest management, and her support across the aisle for H.B. 2936 demonstrates yet again that she puts the health of our forests above partisan politics,” he said.
In a statement he made in early October as the House Agriculture Committee began to review the proposed legislation, Rep. Westerman said: “This legislation is an important step in expediting forest management activities in the National Forest System to promote healthy, resilient forests and prevent catastrophic wildfires… We are committed to further providing the Forest Service the tools it needs to carry out its mission. I was proud of the bipartisan support this committee showed last Congress during our committee mark-up.”
While the bill singles out wildfires in National Forests as a particular concern, Stock notes that wildfire control, especially in severe years such as 2017, heavily impacts the overall Forest Service budget, with consequences felt in New England National Forests.
“We are very pleased that this bill has a good chance of success in Congress and becoming law,” Stock commented. “Thanks to the hard bipartisan work of Congresswoman Kuster and her colleagues on the Agriculture Committee, we hope to see an end to the perennial raiding of eastern National Forest budgets to cover western National Forest catastrophic fire expenses.”
One year ago, the NHTOA successfully lobbied to get Senate Bill 129 into law. The bill, however, is not a permanent solution to improving biomass markets, and its three-year modification of New Hampshire’s RPS law is intended to provide a bridge while policymakers find a permanent, long-term solution to sustain New Hampshire’s biomass industry. Since SB 129’s passage and adoption into law, a lot has happened.
Part of Senate Bill 129’s adoption included directing the Governor’s Office of Strategic Initiatives (GOSI) to conduct a study on the economic viability of electric renewable portfolio standard Class III biomass electric generation resources in New Hampshire. This study will look at the wholesale electricity rates needed to sustain the biomass power plants and the number of jobs and economic activity directly attributed to the operation of the biomass power plants. The study may also analyze ratepayer impacts. This study is due at the end of 2018. To date, the NHTOA and representatives of the biomass power plants have met with the GOSI to share the economic data we gathered last year for the SB 129 debate and to offer assistance with GOSI's effort. GOSI is still gathering data, and the office plans to have the report prepared well in advance of the December deadline. The NHTOA will continue to work with the GOSI as they prepare their report.
Concurrent to GOSI’s effort, the NHTOA and representatives from biomass power plants continue to meet with legislators in Concord who are reviewing bills and policies that could provide the permanent, long-term solution. Interestingly, last month’s record cold temperatures and corresponding natural gas shortage for electricity generation, which drove wholesale electricity prices to spike, got the attention of lawmakers and put a point on one of our central arguments: that biomass power plants provide fuel diversity to the regional grid which is heavily dependent on natural gas (in most days over half the power comes from natural gas combustion). Biomass’s fuel diversity is a hedge against natural gas price spikes.
With this in mind, lawmakers are looking at two areas of New Hampshire electricity law that could provide an opportunity for the state’s fleet of biomass power plants to help stabilize wholesale power pricing while giving these plants a stable market to sustain their operations. The first area of law deals with how New Hampshire utilities satisfy their default power needs (i.e., baseload power). The second area of law pertains to “microgrids” (i.e., allowing direct power sales between power plant and electricity consumer on a local level). As lawmakers grapple with these laws, the NHTOA and representatives of the biomass power plants are participating in these discussions. These concepts require careful evaluation. It may be the case that a sustainable biomass future requires compensating biomass on a basis other than one tied to natural gas pricing, which will vary with the weather. The weather-induced price swings of natural gas pricing will not support sustainable biomass generation and have the effect of creating a less diverse generation mix. At this point we do not have a single solution to point towards and direct NHTOA members to advocate on. As soon as a single solution emerges, we will let you know.
On a positive note, the thousands of letters, emails, phone calls, and articles placed over the past 18 months continue to resonate with lawmakers and motivate them to work towards a long-term, sustainable solution. As the GOSI prepares its report and we continue to work with lawmakers over the next two legislative sessions (2018/2019), the NHTOA will continue to keep you informed of our progress and, more importantly, how and when we need to engage our elected officials.
2018 is an election year. As our current Representatives, Senators and the Governor (and the candidates for these elected positions) begin their biennial campaign cycle this summer, we will work to insure renewable energy, biomass in particular, is a top campaign issue.
Four days after last Sunday's heavy rainfall and subsequent extensive damage to New Hampshire's infrastructure, the condition of state-maintained roadways, including Interstates 93 and 89 and state highways throughout New Hampshire, is improving. Most are now passable, including for log trucks. Check www.newengland511.org frequently for up-to-date state road conditions, as ongoing repairs on several roads are changing passability.
Dozens of local roads in townships, however, are still a mess, and may not be repaired for weeks or even months. The photo accompanying this notice shows Streeter Woods Road in Dorchester, NH; similar conditions can be found on local roads throughout the state. Check with local road agents for conditions, including the condition of local bridges, and be prepared to take detours -- in some cases, long detours.
Stay safe out there!