THE FUTURE of our city hangs in the balance. Perhaps this sounds dramatic but that’s how critically important the Burgess BioPower plant has become to the city of Berlin. The 75-megawatt, woodfired power plant isn’t just a major economic driver, power producer and a crucial revenue source — although it is most assuredly all those things — it has also become embedded in the very fabric of the North Country.
That’s why we’re asking legislators in Concord to support Senate Bill 271 to secure Burgess BioPower as an economic driver and power producer benefiting Berlin, the North Country and the entire state of New Hampshire. Senate Bill 271 gives legislators the chance to send a clear message to the New Hampshire Public Utilities Commission that they value the economic, energy and environmental benefits Burgess provides.
When citizens in Berlin and surrounding communities talk about Burgess BioPower, they are talking about an institution that has helped the people of the North Country preserve and protect their way of life, while setting us up for growth and success.
When the pulp mill closed in 2006, Berlin hung on by a thread. Burgess BioPower has provided an economic position from which the city can now thrive.
Burgess is Berlin’s first real economic development success story in more than 40 years. After ranking 10th from 1991-2011, Coös County jumped to the fourth-highest annual growth rate among New Hampshire counties between 2014 and 2018, which coincided with Burgess’ start of operations.
We don’t have the luxury of being able to survive another human exodus if we need to rebuild our economy again. With property values finally rising and businesses growing and investing in the community, losing Burgess BioPower would cause tax and water rates to skyrocket and community confidence to plummet. The death spiral of any community begins with the realization the future is bleak.
The benefits Burgess provides speak for themselves.
The third-largest power generator in New Hampshire in 2021 (and the only one to run on locally-sourced fuel), Burgess supports more than 240 jobs and more than $70 million in annual economic activity. Those 240 jobs include the workers at the plant, but they also include the haulers, foresters, chippers and cutters based throughout the state.
Burgess BioPower is the largest single buyer of biomass in the state, purchasing more than 800,000 tons of low-grade wood each year from nearly 160 New Hampshire communities from Hollis to Pittsburg. Not to mention, Burgess generates 500,000 megawatt hours of sustainable, reliable and clean power for the New Hampshire power grid each year.
Burgess’s impact in Berlin is especially acute. The plant accounts for nearly 12% of real estate taxes, which is more than $2 million each year. In addition, the plant accounts for 25% of annual water fees and 10% of annual sewer fees.
However, the broader positive impacts transcend statistics. Our economy in Berlin is unlike any other large city or town in our state. Every population center in New Hampshire has a major highway within 10 miles of its border. I-93, the closest such roadway to Berlin, is 50 miles away and requires traversing Franconia Notch to reach it.
The lack of accessibility makes it challenging to grow our economy and retain talent. But we have been overcoming that hurdle, thanks in large part to Burgess BioPower. Berlin’s economy is growing, and young people are staying.
About 18 months ago, White Mountain Paper Company purchased the assets of the last paper operation left in the Androscoggin Valley through bankruptcy court. They made the purchase with their eyes wide open. They did it because they saw a successful future in Berlin. Burgess paved the way, demonstrating the exciting possibilities right here in Berlin.
We should remember Burgess BioPower represents a $275-million investment that received enthusiastic support from the state, Eversource/PSNH, local governments and businesses.
Allowing the plant to discontinue operations sends a chilling message to investors that while you may be today’s darling, politics could pull the rug out from underneath you tomorrow. Is this the message Concord wants to send to companies seeking to make substantial investments in our state?
Thankfully, Senate Bill 271 gives us the opportunity to preserve Burgess BioPower as the critical resource it is.
Burgess sparked a flame in 2010, providing not just jobs, but a reason to believe in Berlin. Just a decade later, we can’t let that flame go out.
Representatives Robert Theberge (R), Larry Laflamme (D), Eamon Kelley (D) all represent Berlin’s District 3.
Robert Theberge Eamon Kelley Larry Laflamme