The Public Utilities Commission has approved a deal that should keep five, small biomass plants around the state operating. But PSNH customers are paying for it. NHPR’s Chris Jensen reports.
Despite the objections of the state’s consumer advocate the Public Utilities Commission okayed a deal that has Public Service of New Hampshire buying electricity from five small biomass plants for about two years.
The deal is expected to at least temporarily keep the small, struggling plants in business.
The plants have about 100 employees but also provide work for the logging industry.
In all PSNH will pay the plants about $71 million.
That is about $25 million more than if PSNH bought the electricity on the cheaper, open market.
And that over payment will cost the average PSNH residential customer about fifty-five cents more each month for the two years.
State consumer advocate Meredith Hatfield argued it wasn’t fair to make consumers pay and the PUC did not have the authority to do so.
But the PUC commissioners agreed with staff and state economic development officials that the deal benefited the state’s economy.
The five plants are in Bridgewater, Bethlehem, Tamworth, Springfield and Alexandria.
Bethlehem, Tamworth and Springfield are owned by huge, multinational corporations.
Officials at the five plants insisted they were in danger of going out of business without a contract from PSNH.
They got the contract by agreeing to drop a legal challenge to what is seen by some as a lucrative 20-year contract between PSNH and the proposed biomass plant in Berlin.
Had the PUC not approved the deal it would not have stopped the biomass plant in Berlin. As part of the contract worked out with PSNH the small plants agreed to drop their legal challenge to the 20-year contract and take their chances with the PUC.
Tuesday night Gov. Lynch's office issued a news release saying Lynch had worked "to bring the two sides together" and he was pleased with the outcome because it is "good news for our state and our economy."
Here's a link to the PUC order detailing its deliberations: http://www.puc.nh.gov/Regulatory/Orders/2011orders/25305e.pdf
How the power plants got the contract: