Wheelabrator excluded from biomass bill

  • A peek inside the furnace at the Wheelabrator Concord facility during a tour reveals a red hot process. Andrea Morales

  • Dan Parkinson, a crane operator at Wheelabrator Concord, works at his post at the company's facility in Concord on Friday afternoon, May 2, 2014 like he has for the last 15 years. He takes trash brought in and drops it into the furnace a crane full at a time. Parkinson was one of the employees honored for his 25 years with the company during a celebration on Friday. Andrea Morales

  • A grapple crane is used to move trash at the Wheelabrator facility in Penacook on Wednesday, April 20, 2016. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff) Elizabeth Frantz

Monitor staff
Published: 5/14/2019 5:16:07 PM

A last-minute effort to prop up New Hampshire’s biomass industry with subsidies will not include Concord waste-to-energy company Wheelabrator, after members of the Senate Energy Committee voted to exclude the company from the bill Tuesday.

The company, which runs a plant in Penacook, incinerates municipal waste to generate energy, which is sold and sent to New Hampshire’s electricity grid.

It was included as part of a subsidy package last year intended to help keep alive the state’s remaining biomass plants, which have struggled with the rise of cheap natural gas throughout the state.

But after a regulatory challenge before the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission put that subsidy package in limbo, lawmakers have been looking for a legislative workaround to continue giving subsidies to the biomass industry, which produces energy by burning wood products.

This time, facing pressure from environmental activists who say Wheelabrator releases too many pollutants, senators are not including the Concord plant.

In a 5-0 vote Tuesday, lawmakers voted to exclude waste-to-energy plants from their amendment, which seeks to sidestep future FERC challenges by giving biomass plants direct renewable energy subsidies through utility companies.

An amendment brought forward by Sen. Dan Feltes would make clear that “eligible facility” under the bill read “shall not include any facility combusting municipal solid waste.”

The move came after concern was raised at a hearing last week that Wheelabrator’s process releases toxins and that the company should not be treated the same as the biomass industry and should be removed from the new subsidies.

But some on the committee, like Sen. Jeb Bradley, voted for the exclusion reluctantly. Speaking before the vote, the Wolfeboro Republican emphasized that last year’s legislation currently tied up in the FERC challenge, Senate Bill 365, still included support for Wheelabrator despite Tuesday’s amendment. And he urged the Senate to continue working on approaches next year to support Wheelabrator.

In a statement Monday ahead of the vote, Michelle Nadeau, a spokeswoman for Wheelabrator Technologies, said that the company offered a vital service that deserved state assistance.

“Without Wheelabrator Concord, the cost of waste disposal for our local communities and business customers would increase as they would be forced to transport their waste to landfills to distant, out-of-state landfills,” Nadeau said, giving an estimate of $1 million in loss.

The amendment is a last-minute addition to an unrelated bill on microgrids first introduced by Sen. Bradley last week. The amended bill will head before the Senate next week.

(Ethan DeWitt can be reached at edewitt@cmonitor.com, at 369-3307, or on Twitter at @edewittNH.)




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