Thursday is “Veto Day” at the State House in Concord, and the Republican leadership is urging members to uphold all four of Gov. Chris Sununu’s vetoes, including his veto of House Bill 142, which provides continued subsidies of Burgess Biopower in Berlin.
The Burgess facility, which burns wood to generate electricity, owes Eversource for over-threshold costs from their 2010 purchase agreement. HB 142 would forgive those payments entirely, to the tune of around $70 million — dollars that were supposed to be returned to these ratepayers.
From the bill itself: “In 2023, a Department of Energy audit confirmed that such repayment of accumulated costs would be detrimental to the continued operation of Burgess Biopower.”
What is detrimental, critics say, is asking Granite State ratepayers to continue subsidizing the facility, which has rarely been able to produce electricity at competitive rates. As a result, lawmakers have intervened with subsidies to keep it afloat.
The total subsidies to the Burgess plant, which Canada-based Stantec owns, total some $200 million.
Supporters of subsidizing the plant say financial relief is necessary to support the forestry industry in the state, keep the plant’s 240 jobs, and allow it to continue to be “a major economic catalyst” in New Hampshire.
Opponents say the facility has already been given far too many subsidies based on broken promises of future fiscal success.
“If the governor’s veto on HB 142 is overturned, you can add one more thing to the list of things that are certain, along with death and taxes,” said Rep. Michael Harrington (R-Strafford). “And that is that Burgess will be back next session with yet another bailout request.”
According to The Josiah Bartlett Center for Public Policy, “Burning wood is an inefficient and expensive way to generate electricity. Natural gas, more energy-dense than wood, is a better fuel source, which is why natural gas accounts for 40 percent of U.S. electricity generation while biomass accounts for just 1.3 percent. (Nuclear is also better.)”
The Bartlett Center also pointed out the plant actually employs fewer than 30 people, not the more than 200 jobs cited by supporters.
When Gov. Chris Sununu vetoed the Burgess bailout in August, he cited the expense to ratepayers in his veto message.
“After accounting for overmarket energy costs and Renewable Energy Certificate costs, Burgess Biopower has received over $200 million in subsidies since 2014. $200 million to support fewer than 40 full-time jobs!” Sununu said in his August veto message. “All of these overmarket costs are paid by approximately 530,000 Eversource customers, forcing those families and businesses to bear additional unnecessary financial burden on top of already historically high electric bills.”
“Enough is enough,” Sununu added.
Manchester Mayor Joyce Craig, running in the Democratic primary for the chance to replace Sununu next year, called Sununu’s veto “disappointing” and supports the continued ratepayer spending.
“I am disappointed by Gov. Sununu’s veto of this bipartisan bill that would ensure the continued operation of a renewable energy resource and keep jobs in Berlin,” Craig posted on social media. “As governor, I’ll stand with local communities to support good-paying jobs and lower costs for families.”
There is no evidence that making ratepayers cover the cost of subsidies for biopower “lowers costs for families.” When asked to provide data supporting this claim, Craig declined.
A two-thirds majority of both houses is required to override the governor’s veto. HB 142 received just over two-thirds support from the House when it passed in March — 269 votes. The bill then passed by voice vote in the Senate.
Sixteen members of the Senate and 267 members of the House need to vote to override Sununu’s veto to keep the subsidies coming.