Bidding process sought for Berlin power plant

Public Service of New Hampshire could face competition in its effort to construct a wood-fired power plant in the North Country.

A Senate amendment to an energy bill that had passed both houses emerged Wednesday. It calls for an open bidding process to supply up to 50 megawatts of power from wood in the Berlin region. The add-on to House Bill 1690, sponsored by Sen. Chuck Morse, R-Salem, goes to a vote in the Senate Finance Committee next Tuesday and might reach the Senate floor two days later.

The current version of the bill gives PSNH the go-ahead to submit plans for a wood-fired plant in the North Country to the Public Utilities Commission and other regulatory agencies. PSNH could even build a second plant if the first succeeds.

The company’s demand grows by more than 2 percent a year, according to its spokesman, Martin Murray. The proposed low-cost generation would let PSNH supply its customers more cheaply than by buying power from the ISO-New England grid in periods of peak demand.

Morse’s suggested change to HB 1690 would create a bidding process before the Public Utilities Commission to find the best and cheapest proposal for ratepayers. The Joint Legislative Fiscal Committee would approve the best offer.

Morse said the goal of his wording is to save the North Country wood industry and make sure the best producer wins the chance to supply the electricity.

Sen. John Gallus, R-Berlin, began brokering the wood power plant bill six weeks ago, Fraser Papers announced it would close its Berlin pulp mill. He was disappointed with the Morse amendment, but knew it was coming at least a week ago.

“There’s a lot of smoke and mirrors going on here,” Gallus said. “I can’t imagine why it had to go to Finance in the first place, except to create a hurdle for Public Service. But the goal is still to protect logging jobs and the economy in Coos County. We have enough supply of wood to serve two or three of these 50-megawatt plants.”

State reps from surrounding towns, including Gene Chandler, R-Bartlett, and Martha McLeod, D-Franconia, welcomed a competition if the process moves quickly.

The Morse amendment calls for the PUC to open a docket in the matter by Aug. 1. McLeod said a plant in Berlin or even Colebrook would help the timber industry as far south as Franconia, Lincoln and the Lakes Region. – CHRIS DORNIN/GOLDEN DOME NEWS

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