The Public Utilities Commission says a proposed 20-year deal between Public Service of New Hampshire and the Laidlaw Berlin BioPower plant is not in the public interest. That jeopardizes the project but the commission is giving the companies a chance to salvage things. NHPR’s Chris Jensen reports.
Late Monday afternoon the Public Utilities Commission said it has serious concerns about the controversial 20-year deal under which PSNH would buy power from the Berlin biomass plant.
The commission said the deal is not in the public interest because the risk is too great that consumers will pay more for energy than necessary.
But the commission gave PSNH and Laidlaw Berlin BioPower thirty days to fix the contract and bring it back.
Getting the PUC’s approval is incredibly important to the biomass project.
When the project was approved by the state’s Site Evaluation Committee last year there was one major condition.
That was that the 20-year contract be approved by the PUC. The site evaluation committee said the deal was needed to finance the plant.
Earlier this year the PUC held six days of technical and argumentative hearings on the 20-year deal.
The deal had two major critics. They were the PUC staff and the state’s Office of Consumer Advocate.
They contended PSNH and Laidlaw had a sweetheart deal.
They argued PSNH was promising to pay far more than the market price – at the expense of the state’s consumers.
They argued the fair thing would be for the power to be purchased at market prices.
There were also suggestions that PSNH had a huge motive for its generosity.
The deal could allow it to take any extra money it was paying for power and use it to buy the biomass plant.
Other critics included smaller biomass plants. Their lawyer said the deal could put them out of business costing the state jobs.
PSNH said if energy prices soared the contract could save consumers money. That was a point the deal’s critics had to concede.
The utility also contended the contract would help the state’s economy, provide PSNH with state-mandated renewable energy credits and generally benefit consumers.
The utility company had support from business groups and elected officials.
They included the mayor of Berlin, the Coos County Commissioners and executive councilor Ray Burton.
In its order the PUC agreed with many of the concerns brought by the PUC staff and the Office of Consumer Advocate.
It noted while the agreement would help the economy around Berlin those benefits didn’t outweigh the financial risks to PSNH’S hundreds of thousands of consumers throughout the state.
But the commission also pointed out some changes that would make the deal acceptable and it gave PSNH and Laidlaw 30 days to work on them.
For NHPR News, this is Chris Jensen