Laidlaw Berlin biopower project receives site approval

By Lisa Gibson | November 10, 2010

The hotly-contested Laidlaw Berlin, N.H., Biopower LLC project has received site and facility approval from the State Site Evaluation Committee. The project has its share of critics including other local biopower facilities arguing that the 70-megawatt plant will significantly drive up prices for the shared woody biomass feedstock.

The Berlin Project would use 750,000 tons of wood chips per year and hopes to have full approval for its power purchase agreement with Public Service of New Hampshire by the end of this year. Although the PPA has yet to be approved and numerous petitions for interventions have been filed against it, the site approval is a major step forward in the development process. If all goes well, Laidlaw expects to begin construction in the first quarter of next year, according Louis Bravakis, vice president of development for Laidlaw.

The site approval does come with numerous conditions including an order not to commence construction until construction financing is completely in place and a PPA has been approved, according to the committee. It also mandates the development of an informal complaint resolution procedure by Laidlaw together with the city of Berlin. Under the conditions, Laidlaw must also develop a decommissioning plan that includes an estimated decommissioning cost and a method for creating, maintaining and securing funding for decommissioning in a safe and secure manner.

Bravakis said the pricing complaints stem from misunderstandings over whether Laidlaw has a fuel pass-through adjustment in its PPA, which it does not. The Berlin Project will actually help other plants in the area, as its qualification for new market tax credits will mean more chippers in the forests and therefore more biomass fuel, which usually brings prices down, Bravakis said.

But developers of existing facilities say even without the fuel pass-through agreement, the formulas and equations in the PPA mean Laidlaw will be reimbursed for its fuel costs. Every plant that sources wood from the same region has intervened in Laidlaw’s PPA process, along with organizations such as the New England Power Generator’s Association Inc. and the city of Berlin.

But the site approval might be a sign that Laidlaw’s development will proceed as planned despite interventions, as Bravakis predicts. The company simply needs to reach out to other developers and clear up the misunderstandings, he said.