Burgess BioPower bill passes legislature, awaits governor’s signature

Barbara Tetreault

May 24, 2023

House Bill 142, which would keep the Burgess BioPower biomass plant in Berlin operating, has passed both branches of the legislature and awaits the governor’s signature. (COURTESY PHOTO)

Original post can be viewed here.

CONCORD — Legislation that will keep the Burgess BioPower biomass plant operating is now on the Governor’s desk after it passed the state Senate on a voice vote last Thursday. House Bill 142 had already passed the House on March 23 by a 269-109 margin.

“ We were pleased to see strong bipartisan support for HB 142. Keeping an in-state renewable baseload generator like Burgess BioPower operating is a win for New Hampshire – and we’re glad the legislature agrees,” said Sarah Boone, vice president for public affairs for the plant’s owner.

Burgess BioPower officials had testified that the 75-megawatt biomass plant would go bankrupt if the bill failed to pass, costing the state nearly $70 million in annual economic activity. The plant purchases over 800,000 tons of low grade wood annually and the company said it supports over 240 jobs both directly and indirectly.

The bill grants the biomass plant financial relief from having to repay $50 million the plant has accumulated over the $100 million cap on overmarket costs established in its purchase power agreement with Eversource.

“The Burgess BioPower plant in Berlin is not only the fourth largest generator in New Hampshire, but the largest renewable generator in the state, producing enough electricity to power 67,000 New Hampshire homes. HB 142 forgives the plant of a $50 million debt, preserving over 240 jobs, and ensuring rate payers won’t be forced to pick up the cost,” said North Country State Senator Carrie Gendreau (R-Littleton).

Berlin Mayor Paul Grenier testified the bankruptcy of Burgess BioPower would push the city into bankruptcy as well. The Burgess BioPower plant is Berlin’s largest taxpayer, paying 12 percent of the city’s total annual property taxes. The plant also accounts for 25 percent of its annual water fees and 10 percent of its annual sewer fees. In addition, Burgess BioPower has given the city more than $1.8 million over the last three years from the sale of Renewable Energy Credits as negotiated in the power agreement.

Grenier said the senate vote “is a recognition of how important Burgess is to the state’s power supply and the health of the forest products industry.”

The bill was supported by the forest industry, which pointed out the biomass plant is the state’s largest purchaser of low grade wood. Wood for the plant comes from 154 New Hampshire towns and helps timberland owners keep their lands in timber production.

While the bill eliminates repayment of the $50 million, Burgess BioPower has committed to working for a long term solution to keep the plant under the $100 million cap.

It has pursued companies to co-locate on the biomass plant site including a commercial greenhouse that would use some of the waste heat to grow greens. The company said uncertainty of the plant’s future has made such efforts unsuccessful. It is currently working with the city on a waste heat recovery system to heat Berlin’s downtown area and potentially provide heat to downtown buildings.

There was opposition to the bill from the N.H. Business and Industry Association which complained the legislation would artificially inflate energy costs to save one business. The BIA said the bill would raise the average Eversource residential customer’s monthly bill by $3. The Sierra Club also opposed the bill, arguing the $50 million could be better spent on recyclable energy measures.

Gov. Chris Sununu’s office did not response to a Berlin Sun inquiry on whether the governor intends to sign House Bill 142.

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