A Solution a Long Time Coming
I had written a feature article for the June 2011 issue of Biomass Power & Thermal that explored the dire circumstances surrounding six independent biomass-fired power plants in New Hampshire reaching the end of their power purchase agreements, and the end of their ropes. At the time, their futures were entirely up in the air and no one knew where they would fall.
Public Service New Hampshire, having fulfilled its end of the bargain with the state to purchase power from those plants for 20 years, was uninterested in fresh contracts. The spot market being what it was in the midst of depressed pricing, those plants were struggling to find buyers for their biomass power to keep from closing and sending their employees home for good.
The story gets a bit sticky in the middle with complicated renewable portfolio standard (RPS) classifications that made power from those six plants unnecessary to utilities, and therefore unwanted. But perhaps more important, disagreements arose between the older plants and a large one proposed for Berlin, N.H., that had a new PPA with PSNH, as it was in a different RPS class that had an annual growth mandate. Those panicked independent power plants (IPPs) filed an appeal that would have severely derailed development on the new biomass plant and the parties were forced to find a solution in order for all to operate.
Weeks of fruitless negotiations resulted in the new biomass developer taking its plans for the power plant off the table entirely. But wait, it was back soon after, with an agreement among most of the IPPs that would be beneficial to all (sort of). A spokesman from that developer divulged the juicy details of that agreement to me, but subsequently broke my heart by telling me it was “off the record.” Suffice it to say, it was best for all involved to maintain the IPPs and the new biomass plant, so there were some sacrifices made. It’s been a confusing story to cover, and one that was fraught all along with anonymous “news tips” that were just hearsay and had no news value whatsoever.
Finally (drum roll please), five of the IPPs have gotten their PPAs through PSNH and, not only that, but it seems as though the state’s RPS is under revisions to be more accommodating to those plants, when and if this happens again.
And I hope it doesn’t. Not because it has been a hard story to follow, but because the real problem with all of this is that a large number of people were on the verge of losing their jobs before this agreement was signed. Months of uncertainty didn’t just leave companies unsure about their plants’ futures, but it left people unsure of their own futures and that of their families.