NH power project gets SEC approval

By Lisa Gibson
Posted September 23, 2010, at 10:17 a.m. CST

After more than a year of negotiations and attached to a laundry list of stipulations and conditions, Laidlaw Berlin Biopower LLC's Berlin, N.H., project application has received unanimous approval from the nine-member New Hampshire Site Evaluation Committee.

The 70-megawatt (MW) power plant, to be located in Berlin at a Fraser pulp mill closed in 2006, will run on more than 700,000 tons of woody biomass annually including wood chips, limbs and bark. Laidlaw is working on a power purchase agreement (PPA) to supply electricity to the local grid, according to Louis Bravakis, vice president of development for the company. The plant will also supply waste heat to a nearby operating Fraser paper mill.

"This is huge," Bravakis said of the approval. "This permit encompasses all approvals we need to construct and operate this plant. It's a monster of a permit." The statewide permit is required for all plants larger than 30 MW and represents a turning point in development. Under its stipulations, Laidlaw will be required to give supply preference to local loggers, comply with the city noise ordinance, build a recreational walk, all-terrain vehicle (ATV) and snowmobile trail for the city, along with numerous other conditions including those dealing with supply and sustainability, Bravakis said. "There a number of them that we worked out over a couple years," he said.

Berlin Mayor Paul Grenier has supported the project since its inception, even before he took the position just over a year ago, Bravakis said. "I think what the mayor is saying now is that we have this certificate, the process is thoroughly vetted," he said. Grenier asked the small local opposition group to "bury the hatchet," Bravakis said, in light of the economic and job growth it will bring to the city.

With the SEC approval out of the way, Laidlaw is hoping to have its PPA stamped out in the next 30 to 45 days, with the 18- to 24-month construction period-made easier by existing infrastructure at the former pulp mill-beginning before the end of the year.

"Having this permit allows us to move forward with this project," Bravakis said.