PPA adjustments might make Berlin, N.H., project impractical

By Lisa Gibson | May 11, 2011

After substantial changes to its power purchase agreement (PPA), developers of Laidlaw Berlin BioPower LLC’s Berlin project in New Hampshire are hoping the project will still be viable.

The Public Utilities Commission reviewed the agreement between Public Service New Hampshire and the Berlin project and came back with a substantially different 120-page document, according to Richard Cyr, senior vice president of Cate Street Capital, which has assisted Laidlaw in the project. The PUC did give conditional approval based on the changes, but Cyr said project developers have been evaluating the document and the impact of the changes for three weeks. “There’s no middle ground,” he said. “It’s either dead or we move forward.”

No deadline has been implemented for Laidlaw and its partners to agree to the changes or withdraw the proposal, but time is money, Cyr said. “We’re trying to do it as quick as possible. We’re pushing very hard.”

The 70-megawatt wood-fueled plant has been under development for some time now and has hit problems before, including local opposition and petitions for intervention in its PPA process from nearby biomass operations arguing that Laidlaw has a fuel pass-through agreement and will essentially be reimbursed for its fuel costs. But Louis Bravakis, vice president of development for Laidlaw, said the Berlin plant does not have a fuel pass-through agreement and will actually help others in the area because its qualification for new market tax credits will mean more chippers in the forest and more biomass fuel. The interventions were based on misunderstandings, he said.

Along with the PPA changes, the project proposal is going through a reorganization that could include changing the company name from Laidlaw Berlin BioPower to Berlin Station, which might lease the project to yet another company. While the reorganization is extremely complex, the changes are only functional and do not affect ownership of the project, Cyr said. “Certain things came up that required some updating and cleaning up,” he said. “You go over this period of time and you find better ways to do things and things change.”