Biomass plants say PSNH is not as hamstrung as it claims


March 11, 2011
BETHELHEM — Stakeholders in the state's independent wood-burning plants that generate electricity say that Public Service of New Hampshire's president and CEO Gary Long misstated the facts in an article published in this newspaper.

PSNH, a wholly owned subsidiary of Northeast Utilities, headquartered in Hartford, Conn., can, in fact, negotiate contracts and submit them for approval to the N. H. Public Utilities Commission (NHPUC). And, besides, they say, the plants are not seeking a "subsidy" in order to stay in business.

"Pinetree Power is not seeking a subsidy," said Mark Driscoll of Littleton, its plant manager. "We have offered to sell our power and RECs (Renewable Energy Credits) to PSNH over a three-year term at a price that is reasonable and is similar to PSNH's price charged to customers."

Furthermore, Driscoll pointed out, PSNH can negotiate and enter into such a contract without any change in legislative policy being required. "Present law is that all contracts in excess of one year for energy and capacity must be submitted to the NHPUC," Driscoll said. "Approval is not given by PSNH but by the NHPUC, so it is not a question of what PSNH can unilaterally accomplish" as CEO Long suggested.

The law governing the state Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) also requires that the contract be submitted to the NHPUC for approval to see if it is in the "public interest," he said.

In determining that, the NHPUC would look to see if a contract would help realize the RPS' goals, including the continued operation of the wood plants.

"A new contract would provide for the biomass plants' continued operation," Driscoll continued.

The public interest also includes such factors as economic development.

The continued operation of just a single one of the four biomass plants that are under or nearing threat of closure would mean retaining 20 direct in-plant jobs and between 100 to 120 indirect jobs in the woods, plus all those who support these operations by supplying tires, fuel, equipment, tools, and incidentals, he said. This totals about $10 million a year per plant, Driscoll estimated.

"You multiply this by four plants, and you're talking about the potential for millions of lost dollars and lost jobs in New Hampshire if these plants close," the plant manager said. Those under immediate threat are in Alexandria, Bridgewater, Tamworth, and Bethlehem.

Driscoll maintains that the biomass plants are not, in fact, seeking or proposing a subsidy or subsidies from PSNH.

"PSNH can contract with us and the other three wood plants," Driscoll stated, noting that contracts would preserve jobs and the economic benefits that flow from these plants that are strategically placed across the state in its rural areas. Driscoll maintains, "All PSNH has to do is submit the contracts that we negotiate to the NHPUC for approval."

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