Action on Burgess BioPower bill delayed until Tuesday

CONCORD — Action on legislation to keep the Burgess BioPower biomass plant operating was postponed until Tuesday, April 26, while discussions are held on a compromise solution.

Senate Bill 271 is currently before the House, having already passed the Senate. At a public hearing last week, the House Science, Technology, and Energy Committee heard strong support for the bill from local officials and the timber industry.

The bill was listed on the committee’s schedule for this Tuesday but was delayed to give the majority of the committee more time to work out a solution according to Rep. Eamon Kelley (D-Berlin).

In the meantime, advocates have launched an effort to build public support for the measure with testimonials on social media and guest editorials in newspapers around the state.

A majority of the Coos County delegation, the city of Berlin, Berlin Mayor Paul Grenier and the N.H. Timberland Owners Association have come out in support of SB271.

But the state Department of Energy has opposed the bill, estimating it adds $2 to $3 a month to the average monthly energy bill. Also, in opposition is the Josiah Bartlett Center for Public Policy, which calls the biomass plant a “jobs program funded by a mandatory rate increase for Eversource customers. The free-market think tank said the rate increase is highly regressive and economically harmful because low-income families and employers pay more for electricity.

Burgess BioPower began commercial operation in 2013 under a 20-year power purchase agreement with Eversource. The agreement called for Burgess to be paid above market rates for the energy produced there until the overpay amount reached a $100 million cap. But when the plant came online, oil and natural gas prices dropped faster than expected and the cap was reached quickly. In 2018, the Legislature passed a follow-up bill, deferring costs for the next three years.

Burgess BioPower officials testified they are being told the approximately $58 million in accrued costs has to be paid back in one year and will be taken out of the plant’s monthly energy payments beginning in December.

The officials said that will financially devastate the company and they would have to shut down the 75-megawatt plant.

SB 271 calls on the PUC to revise its orders as necessary to allow the plant’s continued operation. Supporters of the bill point out it imposes no new cost on ratepayers since the money has already been raised.

The city of Berlin has reported the closing of the plant would result in a major loss of revenue for the city. The plant pays about $2 million in real estate taxes and picks up 24 percent of annual water costs and 10 percent of sewer costs.

The Timberland Owners Association said the biomass plant is the largest purchaser of low-grade wood, purchasing 800,000 tons of chips from about 160 companies, a majority in New Hampshire. Overall, it is estimated the plant generates more than $70 million of economic activity annually and 270 jobs statewide.

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