N.H. lawmakers wrestle over wood-burning plant

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CONCORD, N.H. (AP) – State legislators are still wrestling over a bill that would let Public Service Company of New Hampshire build a wood-burning power plant in the North Country.

Some members of the Senate Finance Committee have been trying this week to amend the bill to invite other power companies to submit proposals.

Under their plan, the state Public Utilities Commission would issue a “Request for Proposals” for a wood-burning plant producing up to 50 megawatts of power, then weigh those bids against any proposal by Public Service.

North Country lawmakers oppose the change, however: They say Public Service is in the best position to build a 50-megawatt plant quickly, and time is of the essence.

One North Country paper mill closed in January and the Fraser Papers Inc. pulp mill in Berlin is due to close next month. Berlin officials say the closures will leave loggers and timberland owners without a market for more than 1 million tons of low-grade wood annually.

Public Service already is converting one of its boilers at Schiller Station in Portsmouth to burn wood and says it could use similar technology at the pulp mill site or elsewhere.

Under the state’s electric deregulation laws, however, it is barred from building or buying new power plants.

It also is supposed to sell its existing ones, although lawmakers have postponed that requirement several times.

At a Statehouse hearing last week, other electric companies said letting Public Service build a North Country plant without opening the process up for bids would turn back the clock on electric deregulation and discourage other companies from entering the state’s emerging energy market.

Because it is a regulated utility, a new Public Service plant would be paid for by its customers through electric rates. When “merchant” power companies build new plants, they are financed by investors and shareholders.

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