The Forest Society supports public policy initiatives which promote the wise use of wood for energy and which advance the practice of sustainable forestry.
The sustainable harvesting of wood products is a significant part of the Forest Society’s purpose for owning and managing conservation land. The wood products industry is New Hampshire’s third largest commercial industry. Sustainable timber harvesting can (and should) increase the age and species diversity of our forests, two important indicators of forest resilience. It serves 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.
Markets for low grade wood are essential to the practice of sustainable forestry. On Forest Society land about 70 percent of the standing timber is “low grade,” which means it is not suitable for sale as saw logs to a commercial sawmill that makes lumber. When paper mills were flourishing in northern New England much of this low grade wood was sold to paper and pulp mills. Today, approximately 40% of low grade wood harvested in New Hampshire is sold to electric generating stations that use biomass for fuel. The rest is sold as pulp wood to the remaining paper mills in northern New England and as cordwood, wood pellets or chips for heating of homes and businesses.
The majority of State Legislators share our view that using low grade wood to generate heat and electricity has societal benefits. During recent legislative sessions bills were passed to provide subsidies for wood energy, specifically to generating stations using wood to create electricity. Governor Sununu repeatedly vetoed legislation providing these subsidies on grounds that the subsidies provided were unfair to electric ratepayers, though he did allow one subsidy bill to pass that benefited the Burgess Power plant in Berlin which has a long term contract to sell power to Eversource.
Using wood to generate electricity is less efficient (per unit of energy generated) that using wood to generate thermal energy. But, whether we use wood for electricity, for heat, or both, if we want to keep forests as forests in New Hampshire we need sustainable markets for low grade wood. And we need to sustain those who work in the woods to provide fuel to the marketplace.
Unfortunately, the Legislature was unable to override Governor Sununu’s most recent veto of a bill (HB 183) to sustain subsidies for six smaller wood electricity generating stations. The result was the closure of two of the six plants, with the other four likely to shut down soon. There likely will be future opportunities for low grade wood to be used for things other than burning it for energy, but at the moment, and for the foreseeable future, there are no readily available markets for the volume of low grade wood these plants have been purchasing. As a state, we should be building new bridges to future low grade wood markets before tearing existing bridges down.