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As deadline looms, Steve Duprey works to finance new Concord Steam plant

Concord Steam has two months left to move forward with its new plant in time for the city’s Main Street renovation project to include heated sidewalks.

A new plant in the South End has been delayed as the company seeks financing, but Concord developer Steve Duprey, who is now offering his financing expertise to the utility, said there’s reason to be “cautiously optimistic” that it will come to fruition.

Duprey said he hopes to know in the next 30 days whether a new plant can be financed. He’s helping Concord Steam seek energy investment tax credits to fund the project.

“You don’t know until you get fairly close to the finish line whether you’re going to be successful,” Duprey said. “The biggest challenge for (financing) the new plant is finding someone to purchase the investment tax credits. And we have focused our efforts there and we expect to learn in a fairly short timetable, because we don’t have much time, whether we’ve been successful in that.”

The project’s success also affects the city’s more than $10 million redesign of Main Street. Designs include underground tubes that would channel waste heat from the new plant and melt snow on downtown sidewalks.

The new wood-burning plant in the South End would produce steam heat and electricity, replacing an aging facility on the New Hampshire Hospital Campus.

The city’s request for contractor bids on the project outlines a number of options, depending on Concord Steam’s plans. It also sets an early November deadline for a decision on heated sidewalks, said City Engineer Ed Roberge.

The potential impact on downtown Concord is the reason Duprey got involved in the project. He owns buildings downtown and served as chairman of a committee last fall that advised the city council on the Main Street project. The idea of heating the sidewalks – and potentially the street – has been popular, so he wanted to make it happen.

Duprey and his associate Jonathan Chorlian offered “to put our expertise to work, in understanding that if the project doesn’t come to fruition then that’s our gamble.” They won’t be paid unless the project succeeds.

“This is a huge project,” Duprey said. “It’s basically a $100 million project. And there are so many moving parts and these projects are extraordinarily difficult to finance. Since Jon Chorlian and I have been working on it, that’s been our focus and we’ve made great progress.”

It’s been difficult to find investors to purchase the tax credits for the energy project, Duprey said, because tax credit buyers look for low-risk investments. Solar and wind energy projects are easier to fund than a steam plant, which is a large industrial project.

Concord Steam President Peter Bloomfield said this week he hasn’t given up hope of building a new plant.

“We’re still working on it, still plugging away, trying to make it happen,” Bloomfield said.

A new steam plant would also hinge on contracts with the city and state governments. Contracts approved in 2011 are no longer valid, as Concord Steam failed to meet its obligations and will not have the new plant ready by January 2014.

City officials have heard from Concord Steam in the past few months, but “they don’t appear at this point to be viable,” said Deputy City Manager for Development Carlos Baia.

“If there are viable options, feasible options that make sense to the taxpayers of our community, then those would merit a review,” Baia said.

Though Bloomfield said the existing steam plant could heat sidewalks on a smaller portion of Main Street, Baia said a snowmelt system is unlikely if Concord Steam doesn’t build a new plant.

“Without that plant, I don’t think it’s looking positive,” Baia said.

If the snowmelt system is built, it won’t be constructed until next year.

The city will select a contractor and begin construction on Main Street by the end of September. The project, funded in part by a $4.71 million federal grant, will reduce traffic from four lanes to two lanes, widen sidewalks, add landscaping and public art and increase accessibility.

Construction this fall will include underground utility work, Roberge said. Work will be done mostly at night, and will stop in early November this year before beginning again after the winter.

Though the project’s initial timeline had a competition date of December 2014, the document distributed to contractors lists a date of September 2015. Roberge said he expects “that we would be done with the project well before September,” but the construction contract would remain in effect to finish and complete paperwork.

(Laura McCrystal can be reached at 369-3312 or
lmccrystal@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @lmccrystal.)

I hope supporters of this project are successful in financing this project. Concord Steam is a model for other communities, in the Northeast and beyond, that are looking for ways to maintain community services and manage heating, cooling, and power costs. Because the heat from the power plant will be utilized instead of being sent to a cooling tower, the plant will be much more energy efficient and cost effective than other "stand alone" power plant in the eastern US. I hope the citizens of Concord and New Hampshire support this important project and that they share their success with others across the country.

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