No SEC review for Clean Power
February 10, 2010
CONCORD — The New Hampshire Site Evaluation Committee rejected a request for committee review of the Clean Power Development Berlin biomass project last week.
"Basically we'd done everything we were supposed to do," CPD president Mel Liston said. "They thought it was appropriate in every respect."
The SEC made the decision last Wednesday after holding a public hearing the Friday before. They continued the public hearing to Wednesday because the ran out of time listening to arguments on Friday.
Petitioners from the town of Gorham and the city of Berlin had requested the review to ensure the project received adequate scrutiny. The SEC normally reviews projects 30 megawatts and larger; the CPD proposal is for a 29 megawatt plant.
The SEC's decision was unanimous, but it is not the final word on the matter. The petitioners still have several opportunities to appeal, all the way up to the state Supreme Court.
State law allows projects below the 30 megawatt threshold to opt in to the process if they wish to. Petitioners affected by the project can also request committee review. Petitioners can be from the community where the project is proposed or abutting communities, and they can be either governing bodies or local residents. Residents have to get more than 100 signatures to be heard by the committee.
CPD had not opted to go through the process; instead they had subjected the project to local controls.
The petition requesting SEC review of Clean Power's project included signatures from 116 residents of Berlin and 104 residents of Gorham, including ward two city councilor Robert Danderson.
The petitioners, represented by Michael Laflamme of Berlin and Howard Jones of Gorham, said at the hearing that they wanted to have the state provide an equal level of oversight on both projects proposed for Berlin. They expressed concerns that the CPD project was specifically designed to be below the 30 megawatt threshold.
CPD argued their project was designed around the available wood supply, not SEC rules. The legislature designated 30 megawatts as the cut off point, they said, and their project clearly falls below that. They also said the delay caused by the review would hurt their finances, they said, as well as negotiations with electricity purchasers.
Berlin Mayor Paul Grenier asked the committee to respect local control of the project. CPD spent more than a year working with the city, he said, and the state shouldn't seek jurisdiction at this late hour.
Mr. Liston said the decision eliminates the specter of a drawn out oversight process. The company will now focus on negotiating a purchase power agreement, he said, so they can start building the project.