Following the veto by New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu of a net metering bill that would have paved the way for new solar and energy systems in the North Country, lawmakers and selectmen are hopeful about another bill that could keep the projects alive.
Senate Bill 159, sponsored by state Rep. Jeb Bradley, R-Wolfeboro, with state Rep. Erin Hennessey, R-Littleton, among the co-sponsors, was pushed out of committee several weeks ago, with an amendment, and is expected to go to a floor vote in January.
In June, Sununu vetoed House Bill 365, which sought to raise net metering limits and increase the electric generating capacity of customer generators from 1 megawatt to 5 megawatts, the upper end of which makes many projects more economically viable, among them the solar arrays pitched for Northumberland and Whitefield.
Lawmakers met in September to override a number of Sununu’s vetoed bills, but HB 365 came up short by just a few votes in a veto override attempt by the New Hampshire House of Representatives.
If SB 159, which also seeks the increase from 1 to 5 megawatts, becomes law, it could mean an estimated $100,000 to $140,000 in annual property tax or payment-in-lieu-of tax revenue for the town of Whitefield.
Three solar companies have been interested in setting up a solar panel array in Whitefield.
“We’re still hopeful something can materialize,” Whitefield Selectman John Tholl said Friday.
How much support there is for SB 159 is still uncertain, said Hennessey, who noted it came out of the Senate committee (Science, Technology and Energy) in a split vote of 12-7 and it is still unknown exactly how the amendment will impact the bill’s success or the viability of proposed energy systems.
Before the veto of of HB 365, Tom Wemyss, who runs the Connecticut-based Pure Point Energy, said his company’s 5-megawatt solar array proposed to go on 60 acres in Northumberland would not be economically viable if the limit was not raised.
It’s 30 percent more expensive to build a 1-megawatt system than a 5-megawatt system and solar is cost-competitive with other forms of energy, but only at larger scales, he said.
The Whitefield solar system, in which selectmen before the HB 365 veto were preparing to select one of the three bidding companies, would be similar in size, at about 4 to 5 megawatts.
The town of Haverhill is also considering a solar project for that town.