Biomass Plants Shut Down after Governor Sununu's Veto of Subsidy

by Michael Cousineau, Union Leader

Wood Energy

Biomass plants in Bethlehem and Tamworth are winding down operations — at least temporarily — after the governor vetoed a bill that would have provided financial subsidies, a company spokeswoman said.

Gov. Chris Sununu’s office said that veto will save electric customers $30 millions a year.

Wood chip suppliers serving the biomass industry say the veto will send ripples through the economy.

“The trickle-down effect is just going to be massive,” said Rebecca Crowe, co-owner of Timberwolf Logging in Littleton. “We buy our fuel locally; guys stopping at the local gas station buying lunch.”

Senate Bill 365 would have required Eversource and other distribution utilities to pay above-market rates to the state’s six biomass (wood-burning) power plants. That cost would have been passed on to customers in their electric bills.

Carol Churchill, spokeswoman for the plants’ owner, Engie North America, said the plants will continue to run until they use up stockpiles of wood chips, then they will shut down. The plants would be fire up again if market conditions improve.

As of Tuesday, Bethlehem had six days of wood chips on hand and Tamworth had a three-week supply, Churchill said.

“We will evaluate the long-term outlook for the facilities in September,” she said.

Churchill said the plants have been “operating at a loss for some time” and the subsidy would have offered relief. 

“However, given the outlook for power prices, it is unlikely that the plants will operate for the rest of the summer,” she said. 

A notice Engie sent to wood suppliers said the Bethlehem and Tamworth plants would stop accepting wood deliveries effective June 22 and would begin operating in “reserve shut-down status” once most wood on site had been used.

Gov. Chris Sununu vetoed the bill June 19 after having been warned of possible shutdowns.

Churchill is hopeful the plants could operate again.

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