When you drive between New London and Sunapee on Route 11 or up 89 between New London and Grantham and look north, it is hard to miss the white plume coming from the tall stack at the Springfield Power plant.
Depending how you describe it, this is a biomass, wood burner or chip plant that produces electricity. This homegrown electricity is produced using local fuel, employs 21 full time employees with salaries and benefits of $1.4 million annually. The plant has created dozens of other jobs in the area forestry industry.
There is a good chance some of the trucks you see on the road are taking chips to the plant. It takes up to 30 truckloads of chips each day to fuel the plant. That is worth $6 million in payments each year for the 250,000 tons of chips the plant burns each year as it operates around the clock. It closes only for about 10 days each year for maintenance.
The plant came on line in 1987. It 2008, the owners invested in upgrades to the facility to reduce pollution, meet environmental regulations and to improve efficiency. As plant manager, Chuck Theall, explained, the goal is to continually try to improve efficiency … increase the amount of electricity produced using the same amount of fuel.
The wood burning plants are controversial for policy makers and especially so for me as I have chaired the Energy and Natural Resources Committee in the Senate for six of the last 10 years. Here is how I see the situation...
New Hampshire is the second most forested state in the country. But about two-thirds of the forested landscape is made up of trees or parts of trees that are not suitable for saw or lumber logs, for veneer or for pulp. That leaves a lot of wood left on the ground unless it is used for fuel at electric plants.
The value of the low value wood, at $28 per ton at the mill, makes harvesting of the better trees and parts of trees economical for landowners, loggers and others involved in forestry. Often, the fact the low grade wood can be taken to the power plant helps property owners avoid the expense of disposing of unusable parts of trees. All this encourages good forestry practices that enhance tree growing for future generations while improving wildlife habitat.
For policy makers, the important positive factors for the six wood burning plants in New Hampshire is that almost all of the cost of the fuel, wood chips, stays in the New Hampshire economy. When we burn oil, around 70 cents on each dollar spent goes out of state and much of it to foreign economies.
There are also jobs tied to supplying the plants with fuel. Overall, hundreds of people go to work every day because there is a market for wood chips. And, efficiently burning wood is much more environmentally sound than burning fossil fuels.
There is the other side to the story. The wood burners receive money from two sources. First, they are paid for the electricity they produce but at a higher rate than Public Service of New Hampshire could buy it on the open market. That means ratepayers pay a little more for their power to subsidize the wood burning industry. The question is whether the benefit of burning wood is worth a few extra cents each month when we pay our electric bill.
And, through the renewal portfolio standards laws that incentivize electric generators that pollute the least, wood burners can sell renewable energy certificates to other companies that produce electricity using fossil fuels. When we pay for the electricity we use, our rates are higher by a very small amount so fossil fuel users can recoup their costs.
We all have a stake in how our electricity is produced because we pay the bill.
Many of us seem to live our daily lives with too much to do for the hours in the day. And that, I find, leads to mistakes and little glitches. That’s what I found when I went to the ATM in Concord for some much needed cash on Monday.
I took out my wallet. I saw that a credit card was missing. The normal panic set in not so much by fears somebody was using my card but by the time and anxiety of having to report a lost card to the bank. Fortunately, I remembered that I had used the card at Staples in Claremont where I had made some copies that morning.
Once I understood that, I called Staples and James answered. I told him my problem and he went to look for the card including getting on the phone to apologize for how much time it was taking him. He finally reported he had the card. What a relief.
When I showed up at Staples a couple of hours later, the card was locked away in a secure drawer. I was happy to be able to thank James personally and remind myself to slow down a bit. That way I will have fewer of those little errors that add tension to the day and take even more time.
But thanks to James, my little missing credit card saga came to a good end … this time.