Process continues for sale of Merrimack Station, other Eversource power plants

  • Transmission lines lead from unit 1 of Merrimack Station; Wednesday, July 17, 2013.The New England grid is expecting to meet or exceed record energy production on Thursday or Friday.(ALEXANDER COHN / Monitor staff)Transmission lines lead from Unit 1 of Merrimack Station in Bow on Wednesday. ALEXANDER COHN

Monitor staff
Published: 4/23/2017 11:12:22 PM

While all eyes are on attempts by Eversource to develop the Northern Pass transmission line, work continues on a different project affecting the state’s biggest utility: Selling off its power plants, including Merrimack Station in Bow and hydropower dams in Bow and Franklin.

Non-binding bids for the power plants and dams are due by the end of the month under the timeline set up by the Public Utilities Commission. 

Financial services firm J.P. Morgan is overseeing the auction, which was ordered by the state Legislature to complete long-stalled efforts to deregulate the electricity industry by separating Eversource’s generation of power from its transmission of power. 

The sale covers nine hydropower dams with a total capacity of 69 megawatts. (One megawatt can power between 750 and 1,000 homes) The dams include Garvins Falls Dam in Bow, Eastman Falls in Franklin, Amoskeag Falls dam in downtown Manchester and Hooksett Hydro.

Also on the block is the 439-megawatt coal-fired Merrimack Station in Bow, as well as three 50-megawatt plants known as Schiller Station in Portsmouth – two fired by coal and oil and one by wood chips – and the 400-megawatt Newington Station, a “dual fuel” station fired by either natural gas or oil.

Last month, J.P. Morgan Chase & Co., which did not return calls for comment, chose potential purchasers that met its criteria to bid for some or all of these plants. The identities of the potential bidders have not been released due to confidentiality agreements.

Those companies are slated to give “preliminary, non-binding” bids in the next few weeks, by early May at the latest.

J.P. Morgan will evaluate these initial bids and select some or all of the bidders to participate in a second round of bids, which are binding. Those bids will be due by August, after which the Public Utilities Commission must sign off on any sales.

Analysts have said that most or all of the hydropower dams are likely to sell easily. Also likely to sell easily is Newington Station, since natural gas-fired plants are successful in today’s market due to the low cost of gas.

Results of selling the coal-fired plants is less certain. Coal-fired plants are being retired around the country, largely because of competition from gas-fired electricity productions at a time when electricity demand is stagnant, at best.  The power plants have extra value from a program called the forward capacity market, which pays them to be ready if needed to prevent brownouts or power failure.

David Brooks bio photo

David Brooks is a reporter and the writer of the sci/tech column Granite Geek and blog, as well as moderator of Science Cafe Concord events. After obtaining a bachelor’s degree in mathematics he became a newspaperman, working in Virginia and Tennessee before spending 28 years at the Nashua Telegraph . He joined the Monitor in 2015.

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