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GOP House member presses wrong button and Sununu veto is overridden with no votes to spare

New Hampshire Union Leader

September 13. 2018 3:44PM
Wood chips are dumped from a tractor trailer at Schiller Station in Portsmouth in this file photo. (KIMBERLEY HAAS/Union Leader Correspondent)

CONCORD — A fierce lobbying campaign by wood energy advocates had the desired effect on Thursday, as lawmakers in the House and Senate voted to override Gov. Chris Sununu’s veto of a bill designed to help sustain the state’s six wood-burning power plants and the forestry industry.

The governor’s veto of a bill to encourage large-scale solar energy projects for businesses and municipalities was upheld.

Sununu vetoed the two renewable energy bills in June, citing their cost to electric ratepayers and stating they’d send New Hampshire “in exactly the wrong direction.”

Senate Bill 365 requires Eversource and other utilities to pay above-market rates to the state’s six biomass (wood-burning) power plants, the cost of which is passed along to consumers in their electric bills.

Senate Bill 446 would have expanded the state’s net metering program, which requires utilities to buy electricity from solar energy generators at retail rates. The bill would have raised qualifying solar installations from 1 megawatt to 5 megawatts, setting the stage for several large municipal projects.

The Senate voted to override Sununu’s vetoes of both energy bills with votes of 21-3, but did not get House support needed to override the net metering bill. That veto was sustained in a House vote of 213-128, short of the two-thirds required.

The House succeeded in overriding the biomass bill without a single vote to spare, achieving precisely the two-thirds majority, 226-113.

According to state Rep. Michael Harrington, R-Strafford, a strong opponent of the bill, a Republican representative who wanted to sustain the veto pressed the wrong button, but there was nothing that could be done.

Josiah Bartlett Center for Public Policy President Andrew Cline said the override will cost ratepayers.

“Legislators have literally made it illegal for electric utilities to buy power at the lowest available price,” he said. “This ill-considered mandate that utilities buy some power from inefficient, expensive biomass plants effectively orders ratepayers to burn tens of millions of dollars a year that they could otherwise save or spend on other priorities.”

Senate Majority Leader Jeb Bradley, R-Wolfeboro, led the effort to overturn the veto by Sununu.

“Our biomass plants are essential power generators that enhance our fuel diversity and capacity, keeping the lights on in New Hampshire,” he said. “Ensuring this legislation becomes law is by far one of the most important things we can do to protect small businesses and families in communities across the state.”

Sununu’s veto of a parole reform measure, House Bill 143, was overturned 23-1 in the Senate and 255-79 in the House. The bill, now law, allows the parole board some flexibility in sentencing re-offenders convicted of low-level crimes if they enter substance use treatment.

Michele Merritt, president and CEO of New Futures, the statewide health policy and advocacy organization, applauded the override. “We know too well that incarceration does not advance long-term recovery,” she said.

Sununu’s veto of a bill that would have repealed the death penalty in New Hampshire was sustained in a Senate vote of 14-10, with 16 votes required to override.

The Senate also sustained two other Sununu vetoes that were overridden in the House:

HB 314, which would have established requirements for testing driverless cars and a commission to study their introduction to New Hampshire; and

HB 1736, increasing the threshold required for governor and council approval of expenditures from the dam maintenance fund.

Despite Republican majorities in the House and Senate, Sununu was overturned on two of the most controversial bills — biomass subsidies and parole reform.

“We don’t expect people to fall in line and do only what the leader of the Republican party does,” he told reporters afterward. “Everyone makes their own decisions and that’s fine. Folks have their own constituencies, their own issues, their own reasons for voting on something. We just make sure everyone has the information and is voting with good information, and how the votes fall is how the votes fall.”

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