The Role of State Governments in Supporting Biomass Power

By Bob Cleaves | July 03, 2012

In early June, I had the privilege of attending a tour of the Burgess Biomass Power Project in Berlin, N.H., sponsored by Babcock & Wilcox, the engineering, procurement and construction contractor. I am sharing their story as an example of a biomass facility at the center of a revitalizing town—where the market and the local government have similar needs that are being met by biomass.

At 75 MW, the project brings almost 500 jobs to a region of New Hampshire that's been hit hard by the economic downturn. This would not have been possible without a long-term contract for the power, negotiated between the developers and the local utility, Public Service of New Hampshire.

It all began in May 2006, with the closing of a 150-year-old-plus paper mill. For most of the northern New Hampshire town's recent history, the mill had been the center of economic activity and—despite the mill's shrinking size as the dawn of the Internet decreased demand for paper—remained the top employer for the town of 10,000 residents, until the day it shut down.

For several years, the lot that had been home to the historic paper mill remained empty as the town debated what to do with the land, and more importantly, how to restore the jobs that were lost with the mill.

In 2010, after four years of debate during which the buildings and the former paper mill began to fall into disrepair, a developer purchased the land and buildings to build a biomass plant.

In addition to putting to use a vacant lot that had once been the center of the community, the new biomass plant would employ former paper mill workers who would do jobs that fall within their expertise. Additionally, the new biomass plant would use the very same boiler that had been implemented by the paper mill.

The biomass plant project, which has been permitted and is being developed by Cate Street Capital, is currently in the construction phase. The project enjoys lots of support from local government and residents in Berlin. In September 2011, upon Cate Street Capital's closing for project financing, Berlin Mayor Paul Grenier said, "I think this is the beginning of a new economic era for the city of Berlin."

Berlin’s story is just one example of the market and regulatory environments aligning to support a project that will provide much-needed jobs and clean energy. Another is in Washington state, where government recently passed a law that reaffirms the jobs potential and carbon neutrality of biomass, and extends renewable energy status to previously unrecognized, older biomass facilities. And there are many other examples across the country.

The lesson here is that, with regards to energy, market needs and government needs are not mutually exclusive—and biomass can often help overcome both the economic and environmental challenges.

Author: Bob Cleaves
President and CEO, Biomass Power Association