In a burst of good news for the North Country, officials broke ground today for a new biomass plant in Berlin.
As NHPR’s Chris Jensen reports, along with it came news that a second project at the same location will add another 150 jobs.
“It all starts today and watch out New Hampshire because Berlin is back.”
That was Berlin mayor Paul Grenier at the ground breaking for the new $275 million Burgess BioPower plant.
After four years of starts and stops, regulatory hurdles and economic challenges, about 200 people gathered for the ceremony at the site of the old Fraser pulp mill.
But calling it a ground breaking isn’t quite right.
Since the area where luminaries gave speeches was paved they instead dipped their shovels into a small sandbox.
But nobody seemed to object.. including Governor John Lynch.
“"And it means opportunity not only for the people who currently live in Berlin but for generations to come.”
The 75-megawatt plant is backed by Cate Street Capital, an investment firm in Portsmouth.
It says it will have 40 employees in addition to “supporting several hundred jobs” for the logging industry by purchasing about $25 million worth of wood chips a year.
The project is also expected to pay Berlin at least $34 million in taxes.
Cate Street says the plant will create about 400 construction jobs, with an expected opening late in 2013.
John Halle, the president of Cate Street, said there is more good news.
“We are exploring bringing another manufacturer here that would create probably 150 to 300 jobs and share the electricity and the steam and the hot water. We are close to an agreement and are hoping to ratify that in the next two weeks.”
Later Halle said there is a deal for the company to set up in Berlin. However he said he won’t identify the company for about two weeks.
Halle declined to say how much money Cate Street expects to make in Berlin other than he hopes it will be “very profitable.”
Gary Long is the president of Public Service of New Hampshire which will buy the power.
“There is no profit for PSNH in this project. There is no financial gain to PSNH.”
However, testimony and documents filed before the Public Utilities Commission suggest the project could be very good news for PSNH.
If there is a change in state law the 20-year contract gives PSNH the chance buy the biomass plant.
What’s more ratepayers could wind up providing much of the money.
Often over the last four years it looked like the project would not materialize.
In fact last summer it looked like the biomass plant was dead.
The problem was that six wood-fired biomass plants were threatening to continue a legal challenge to the 20-year PSNH contract.
That could have delayed the plant long enough to make it unfeasible..
The plants were struggling financially and before they would agree to drop the challenge they wanted contracts to provide power to PSNH.
Finally a deal was worked out giving five of the plants contracts. But Halle still bristles when asked about it.
“That is against the best economic interests of the state to use a process like that. It is just wrong.”
Construction is expected to take about 24 months.
For NHPR News this is Chris Jensen