CONCORD — An amended Burgess BioPower bill passed a key House committee on a 20-2 vote Tuesday, fueling optimism that the Legislature will ultimately approve a bill that will allow the biomass plant to continue operations.
“We were pleased with the strong committee vote in favor of SB 271 yesterday and hope for a similar demonstration of support in the full House,” said Sarah Boone, vice president for public affairs for Burgess BioPower on Wednesday.
House Science, Technology and Energy Committee Chair Michael Vose said the amended bill passed by his committee is substantially changed from the original bill sponsored by state Sen. Jeb Bradley (R-Wolfeboro).
Under its purchase power agreement with Eversource, Burgess BioPower has been receiving above-market rates for the power produced by the 75-megawatt biomass plant.
Burgess reached the total cap for the rates in 2018 and the Legislature agreed to allow the higher rates for three more years but the company was told it would have to repay the $58 million accumulated.
Vose said the Senate bill called for forgiving $58 million in above-market rates paid by ratepayers for power produced at the 75-megwatt plant since 2018.
Vose said the House committee took a different approach and amended the bill to allow Burgess to operate an additional year under its current model. He said that will give the interested parties time to work out a solution.
He said Burgess BioPower will open its financial records to the state Department of Energy including their capital and operating costs, profit and loss statements. The department will do an audit and submit a report to the committee and the Office of the Consumer Advocate by Dec. 31, 2023.
“I fully expect that a permanent solution to this problem will be hard to do. But we have to try. And we have to stop doing what this amendment does — kicking the can down the road. But the reason this amendment kicks the can down the road is because we need the time to come up with that permanent solution,” Vose said.
“It certainly is a step forward to hopefully putting this behind us,” said Berlin Mayor Paul Grenier, after the committee vote.
Grenier said the bill will next go before the full House, and if it passes there, go on to a committee of conference to iron out differences and produce a final bill.
“Until the bill passes, we don’t have resolution. I guess a few more sleepless nights are in order,” Grenier said, noting the importance of the bill to the city and to the North Country as a whole.
The mayor said the plant pays about $3 million in taxes and user fees to the city. An independent study found the 75-megawatt biomass plant creates 240 jobs and annually generates over $70 million in economic activity in the state. One of the largest biomass plants in the country, the Timberland Owners Association has cited its importance as the largest purchaser of low-grade wood in the state, with the plant buying 800,000 tons of low-grade wood at a cost of about $25 million.
Committee Vice Chair Douglas Thomas said the Legislature approved his bill setting up a commission to study the forest industry and allowing the biomass plant to keep operating for another year will allow time to come up with options for the industry.
Grenier praised Berlin state Reps. Robert Theberge (R), Larry Laflamme (D) and Eamon Kelley (D), as well as Rep. Troy Merner (R-Lancaster), and state Sens. Erin Hennessey (R-Littleton), and Bradley for their work on the bill.
Barbara Tetreault Apr 27, 2022