A Healthy Biomass Industry Helps Forest Owners Sustainably Manage their Forests

The sustainable harvesting of wood products is a significant part of the Forest Society’s purpose for owning and managing conservation land.  Careful and sustainable timber harvesting increases the age and size class diversity of our forests. It is also used as a method of meeting other land management goals, including the creation of wildlife habitats, maintenance of biodiversity, promotion of recreational opportunities, and protection of clean water.  Our ultimate goal is to keep forests as forests.

How to meet this fundamental objective? One important way is to maintain markets for low-grade timber. In fact, over 70% of the standing timber on the Forest Society’s 56,000 acres of forestland is “low grade wood.”  Our planned timber harvests involve regenerative cutting (or removing essentially all trees in a specific stand in order to regenerate new trees), which typically results in a larger percentage of low-grade wood.  The absence of markets for the low-grade wood makes it much harder to attain silvicultural goals.  The six operating biomass energy plants in the state are a large part of current markets for low-grade wood.    

Fortunately, policy makers in the State Legislature broadly share our view on the benefits of biomass.  During the previous two legislative sessions, they passed several bills designed to assist this sector.  In 2017, the Legislature approved SB 129, which strengthened the pricing system for biomass in the New Hampshire Renewable Portfolio Standard law (RPS).  In 2018, the Legislature approved three bills to extend the capacity of these plants to keep operating.

  • Senate Bill 365 would set up temporary three-year power contracts between the State’s six biomass plants and Eversource and the other distribution utilities under which the utilities would purchase the plants' energy output.
  • Senate Bill 446 would expand the cap on state’s net metering law from 1 MW to 5MW. This change would strengthen the law by allowing businesses, and others, who want to make their own power and sell the excess onto the grid to do so more easily. Some businesses are interested in doing this with biomass boilers and solar panels.
  • Senate Bill 577 would extend an agreement through which Eversource buys power from the Burgess Biopower plant in Berlin.

Also of note, the current state budget law directs the NH Office of Strategic Initiatives to undertake a study of the long-term viability of wood-fired energy.  We view this study as an opportunity for all stakeholders to deeply dive into the issues facing the forest products industry as it concerns low-grade wood markets.  We expect this report to more clearly articulate how public policy can help assure the long-term health of New Hampshire forests and New Hampshire’s forest products industry.