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Berlin officials mum on fate of legislation that would extend controversial bio-power purchase agreement

Union Leader Correspondent

June 19. 2018 10:54PM

BERLIN — While touting the economic benefits of the Burgess BioPower plant for the city, for Coos County and for the state of New Hampshire, a company spokesman declined to comment on what might happen if Gov. Chris Sununu vetoes a bill to extend a power-purchase agreement between the plant and Eversource.

On Tuesday morning, Sununu vetoed Senate Bills 365 and 446, each covering a three-year period, citing their expected cost and saying they’d send the state “in exactly the wrong direction.”

SB 365 would have set net-energy metering limits, cumulatively costing ratepayers some $100 million, said Sununu, while SB 446 would have created a subsidy for New Hampshire’s six biomass plants that would cost ratepayers an estimated $25 million.

A third piece of energy legislation, Senate Bill 577, which would allow the Public Utilities Commission to extend an existing power-purchase agreement between Eversource and Burgess BioPower, remains unsigned on Sununu’s desk.

Critics of the existing power-purchase agreement, including the Business and Industry Association, have charged that it subsidizes Burgess BioPower and the city of Berlin at the expense of ratepayers statewide.

While the electricity from Burgess BioPower helps the state meet its goal of having a quarter of energy used in New Hampshire come from renewable sources by 2025, it has sometimes cost Eversource more to buy it from Burgess BioPower than from the open energy market.

On behalf of Burgess BioPower, Scott Tranchemontagne declined to speculate what might happen if Sununu signs, vetoes or lets SB 577 become law without his signature, saying it would be presumptuous.

He did say, however, that “Burgess BioPower’s benefits to Berlin, North Country and the state have been thoroughly studied and quantified by one of New Hampshire’s most respected economists, Brian Gottlob of PolEcon Research in Dover.”

Gottlob’s study, said Tranchemontagne, “found that Burgess has created 184 new jobs within Coos County, with annual labor income of $11.5 million and $57.7 million in production of goods and services within the county. With respect to Coos County property taxes, Burgess has significantly reduced them, saving approximately $300 per person, per year, and this savings is increasing annually.”

In Berlin, Burgess BioPower “has helped reduce water and sewer rates by approximately 15 percent,” Tranchemontagne continued, and statewide, it supports 221 jobs “and puts over $63 million into the New Hampshire economy each year.”

Berlin Mayor Paul Grenier was unavailable for comment Tuesday but during his State of the City Address in January, and also during an interview with the New Hampshire Sunday News in February, he made it clear that Burgess BioPower was a valuable asset in The City That Trees Built.

For the fiscal year that begins July 1, Burgess BioPower will provide roughly half of the total Berlin Water Works budget and a fifth of the sewer department budget, Grenier said in his address.

In May, the Berlin City Council voted to send a letter to Sununu asking him to sign SB 577 and Grenier also petitioned the governor in person to do so.

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