Two more firms want to burn North Country wood for power

Spokesmen for two competing energy projects have announced plans to construct or buy wood-fired power plants in the North Country.

New Energy Capital Corp. and Tamarack Energy are gearing up a partnership behind a plant or plants that would burn some of the glut of wood supply left by the demise of Groveton Paperboard and the Fraser Papers pulp mill in Berlin.

“We’ve been looking at that region for a long time,” said Tamarack president Derek Amidon. “New Energy has some bright, talented guys interested in getting things done. We’re glad to be teaming up with them.”

Dan Reicher, president of New Energy, agreed the two firms have complementary skills and missions.

“The time frame depends on the outcome of various deliberations in Concord,” he said. “A lot of pieces are moving around the chessboard. We need to see where all that activity ends up.”

Another possible entrant in the North Country power competition, Whitefield Power and Light – a subsidiary of Conduit Energy – also say it has plans to buy and renovate the 33-megawatt plant in Berlin that powered operations at Fraser. The details are still proprietary information, said Whitefield president Christian Siembieda.

“We contacted Fraser the day they announced they were closing the mill,” said Siembieda. “We expect we’ll be running a good biomass power plant there in the next 24 months.”

Asked why he never called a press conference about the news, Siembieda said the company is privately held.

“We’re not trying to impress anyone,” he said. “But we took a plant in Whitefield that wasn’t operating, and now it’s one of the cleanest in New England. We hope to repeat that in Berlin.”

Meanwhile, lawmakers will make decisions this week and next that determine whether Public Service of New Hampshire still seeks to build a 50- or 60-megawatt plant in the same region.

A committee of conference was scheduled to begin May 16 to hash out differences between the house and senate versions of HB 1690, the bill that lets PSNH expand its regulated power production.

Some House members fear the power bill could fail because the senate attached an amendment the house rejected. It funds a controversial dental clinic for the needy in Tamworth.

Four existing wood-fired plants in the northern half of the state are hatching a bill amendment to let them keep selling power to Public Service. They hope to secure some time to adjust to losing their long-standing, above-market-rate contracts with PSNH. Three of those pacts expire this year and the fourth in 2007.

Rep. Robert Theberge (D-Berlin) has teamed with half a dozen house members to draft a bill rider aimed at saving the four plants, which burn 1.2 million tons of wood a year. Late last week he had not seen the final text.

“It’s to extend the contracts another two years,” Theberge said. “I’d like to have been on the conference committee, because that energy bill is crucial for the North Country. It almost seems like the Senate is trying to kill it by putting the clinic on it.”

PSNH spokesman Martin Murray said HB 1690 is the only way his company could legally build anything up north. It would like to expand its production of power, but the latest version of the bill would make the regulated utility share half its risks and profits with ratepayers, a deal breaker. The Public Utilities Commission would manage a bidding process among firms that accept those terms.

“It’s simply not fair to our customers to participate without a rate order,” Murray said. A traditional rate order from the Public Utilities Commission would guarantee PSNH a 9.6 percent return on its capital investment.

Murray welcomed any competition to build something near Berlin, saying the supply of wood is sufficient to fuel several plants. – CHRIS DORNIN/GOLDEN DOME NEWS

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