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Maine firm buys up NH biomass plants, including Springfield’s

  • A trailer carrying between 25 and 30 tons of wood chips from a logging job, enough for about one hour of electric generation, is emptied at the Springfield Power biomass plant in Springfield, N.H., Wednesday, August 1, 2018. The facility is one of the 6 independent biomass plants that have been impacted by Sununu's veto of S. 365 that would have required utilities to purchase a portion of their electricity from the biomass plants. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Valley News Business Writer
Published: 4/8/2021 9:42:47 PM
Modified: 4/8/2021 9:42:44 PM

SPRINGFIELD, N.H. — A Maine-based company has quietly acquired four mothballed wood chip power plants in New Hampshire, including one in Springfield, and is attempting to bring them back online.

Stored Solar LLC, based in West Enfield, Maine, last year acquired biomass power plants in Whitefield, N.H., and Springfield, both previously owned by EWP Renewable Corp., and the Pine Tree Power biomass power plants in Bethlehem, N.H., and Tamworth, N.H., Bill Harrington, manager and a principal in Stored Solar, confirmed on Thursday.

The Maine company, in addition to two biomass power plants it owns in Maine, also now owns biomass power plants in Ryegate, Vt., and in Fitchburg, Mass., Harrington said.

All four of the New Hampshire biomass plants were shuttered in 2019 following Gov. Chris Sununu’s veto of a controversial bill in the Legislature to subsidize the wood-burning power plants, which were having a difficult time competing as the wholesale price of electricity fell and other green energy power systems, such as solar and hydropower from Canada, increasingly supply energy into the regional grid.

How Stored Solar — the “stored” in the company’s name refers to what the company calls the “stored solar energy” in biomass and not solar-powered technology — intends to make a go in biomass power generation without financial subsidy is not clear.

Harrington acknowledged the business “is a challenge but we think we can make a reasonably good business model.” He declined to get into specifics.

“We believe in green energy,” Harrington said when asked why Stored Solar was investing in a business that has not won traction on a large scale and in which there is debate over its impact on the environment. “It’s not an easy business; however, we believe it’s a viable business.”

Harrington also declined to discuss terms of the purchase.

In Springfield, Janet Roberts, administrative assistant in the town offices, said Stored Solar filed for an abatement request dated Feb. 21 on the 63.7-acre property and facility last assessed at about $1.166 million, citing it was purchased “at fair market value in a bidding process dramatically below the assessed value.”

Roberts, who noted the property already has a “pollution control exemption” that lowers the taxable value to $1 million, said the abatement request will go to the town’s “utility assessor” who will make a determination that will then go before the Springfield Selectboard for approval.

Forest industry professionals are also curious as to how Stored Solar will be able to profitably operate the plants.

Jasen Stock, executive director of the New Hampshire Timberland Owners Association, which lobbied hard on behalf of the bill to subsidize biomass plants, said he recently had met with a Stored Solar representative but was left largely in the dark as to their strategy.

“It’s welcomed the plants were picked up and purchased, but it’s not clear to me what (Stored Solar’s) long-term goal is, whether they want to run the plants during the peak seasonal times in winter and summer when demand for electricity is higher,” Stock said.

Bringing the Springfield biomass plant online is good news — or should be — for New Hampshire and Vermont loggers who saw the market for their low-grade wood chips go up in smoke when wood-burning plants in the state were forced to close in the wake of the governor’s veto. The closing of the Springfield plant, formerly owned by a U.S. affiliate of a South Korean company, resulted in 20 workers losing their job.

Loggers in the Upper Valley said they have been intermittently trucking wood chips to the Whitefield and Springfield plants this past winter but the calls for biomass fuel have been off and on.

“They were buying wood, they broke down, then they weren’t buying wood,” said Glenn Zambon, who runs a Bradford, Vt-based logging business. Zambon said he trucked “12 to 13” 30-ton loads of chips to Whitefield and that Stored Solar was willing to pay only $20 per ton for chips compared with the $28 to $32 per ton he was receiving before the New Hampshire biomass plants closed in 2019.

(Harrington said the plants have been “struggling with some mechanical issues but we are fixing them as we go. We’re in a shakedown period, since we recently acquired the plants, to see what needs to be fixed.”)

But Stacey Thomson, owner of Thomson Timber Harvesting & Trucking in Orford, said that although Stored Solar is not paying the former rate for wood chips he’s nonetheless grateful that he has a customer again for the low-grade wood he harvests from his timbering business.

“I’m just glad somebody stepped up to the plate,” Thomson said. “As far as I’m concerned, if I met that guy, I’d shake his hand.”

Contact John Lippman at jlippman@vnews.com.




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