June 27. 2018 10:48PM

Eversource, Burgess BioPower agreement extended

By JOHN KOZIOL
Union Leader Correspondent


Berlin Mayor Paul Grenier holds Senate Bill 577, which Gov. Chris Sununu, signed into law on Wednesday afternoon. Looking on are Coos County Sheriff Brian Valerino and State Rep. Robert Theberge, R-Berlin. (JOHN KOZIOL/UNION LEADER CORRESPONDENT)

BERLIN — Gov. Chris Sununu on Wednesday signed into law a bill that could extend the power-purchase agreement between the state’s largest electricity provider and a local company that produces renewable power from wood.

The company is Burgess BioPower and, in addition to making power for Eversource, it is a large customer of the city of Berlin’s water and sewer departments.

Burgess also provides money to the municipality through what Berlin Mayor Paul Grenier has said is a payment-in-lieu-of taxes (PILOT) agreement that is favorable to the city.

Under the existing agreement between Burgess and Eversource, the financial threshold for Eversource to buy power from Burgess even when doing so was above the market rate, was rapidly being reached, prompting Senate Bill 577.

Now a law, the bill will allow the Public Utilities Commission to extend the agreement, something that critics say will subsidize the city of Berlin and Burgess at the expense of ratepayers throughout New Hampshire.(See related editorial, Page A6)

Sununu, who last week vetoed two other bio-power bills because they were what he called expensive subsidies, said SB 577 is different and “this bill does not increase rates.”

Earlier, Sununu concurred with the assessment of Grenier that “this was a difficult bill for him to sign.”

In the process of lobbying the governor to understand Berlin’s position, “Chris and I have become somewhat good friends,” joked Grenier. Grenier is a Democrat; the governor is a Republican.

Sununu began his remarks by saying that SB 577 represented “a very complex issue.” Berlin, though still reeling from the loss of its paper mills and other manufacturing, was moving forward, he said, and “the worst thing we could let it do is slip back” several steps in that progress.

If he didn’t sign SB 577, Sununu said there’d be “millions of dollars in negative impact” not only in Berlin, but throughout Coos County.

“This bill,” he said, “makes sure that Berlin stays on the right trajectory, the right path.”

On behalf of Burgess BioPower, Scott Tranchemontagne of Montagne Communications, said Wednesday was “a great day for Burgess BioPower, the city of Berlin, the North Country region and the state of New Hampshire.” By signing Senate Bill 577 into law, he said Sununu recognized “the importance of Burgess to the state’s economy, in particular the more than 220 jobs it supports annually.”

The Legislature passed SB 577 by “overwhelming margins,” Tranchemontagne said.

“We thank the Governor for his leadership and for taking the time to listen to the people of Berlin and the North Country. We look forward to Burgess contributing to the community for years to come.”