It’s rare for a New England governor to comment on legislation pending before a legislative body in another state, but that’s what happened Wednesday when New Hampshire Gov. Margaret Wood Hassan encouraged Gov. Dannel P. Malloy to drop his support for renewable energy legislation.
The bill that pits Democrat against Democrat passed the Connecticut Senate last week and would require the state to purchase 20 percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2020. If it looks like the state may not meet its goal, then it can fulfill 5 percent of the 20 percent goal with large-scale Canadian hydropower.
Hassan told Malloy that many of her residents believe the legislation seeks to benefit Hydro Quebec and its Northern Pass transmission line project. The $1 billion high-voltage transmission line would bring 1,200 megawatts of electricity to New England for the next 40 years.
“Many in my state believe that the impetus for Connecticut’s legislation is your state’s desire to benefit from the Northern Pass project,” Hassan wrote. “As you know, Northern Pass raises many questions for New Hampshire. That project could have an impact on some of our state’s most important natural resources, such as the White Mountain National Forest, which are critical to the success of our tourism industry.”
But Mark Ojakian, Malloy’s chief of staff, disagreed with Hassan’s assessment.
“Accessing hydroelectric power is a win-win for Connecticut and the region because it will lower rates for Connecticut residents and increase our supply of renewable energy,” Ojakian said. “Connecticut residents pay among the highest prices for energy in the country, and Governor Malloy believes our consumers deserve some much needed relief.”
Hassan also said the legislation would have a negative impact on “small wood-fired generating plants” by excluding them from the portfolio of renewable standards.
“This legislation could harm New Hampshire and the region’s existing biomass generation, costing jobs in our region,” Hassan wrote.
Ojakian again objected to the interpretation.
“The purchase of more expensive and less clean biomass is simply not an option,” he said.
Rep. Lonnie Reed and Sen. Bob Duff, who co-chair the Energy and Technology Committee, sided with Ojakian.
They said the legislation doesn’t exclude out-of-state biomass, but it favors newer renewables such as wind and solar. They said that if Connecticut ratepayers really understood how much of their money was funding out-of-state biomass plants, they would be upset.
Duff said Hassan’s opposition to the bill actually makes a stronger case for why the state needs to move forward with it.
“I hope my colleagues see this as a reason to wake up and vote for the bill,” Duff said.
Of course, not everyone in the House agrees with Malloy, Reed, Duff, and Ojakian.
Roger Smith, co-director of Clean Water Action, said the letter from Hassan should give lawmakers some “pause” to think about whether to move forward with the legislation. Smith’s group opposes allowing any Canadian hydropower into the renewable portfolio.
He’s not alone.
Even before the letter some lawmakers were coming up with their own alternatives to Malloy’s energy proposal.
There are 26 co-sponsors on an amendment to the bill that would remove the controversial language regarding which energy sources qualify as renewables. If the amendment is adopted in the House, the bill would have to go back to the Senate for another debate.
Environmentalists have said that allowing large-scale hydropower into the renewable portfolio means the state is rolling back its commitment to emerging technologies such as wind and solar.
Others believe it’s a giveaway to Northeast Utilities, which would benefit financially from building the Northern Pass transmission line for Hydro Quebec.
Speaker of the House Brendan Sharkey is trying to find enough consensus among his caucus members to raise the bill.