North Country:Status, Ownership Of Biomass Plants Unclear

Pinetree Power in Bethlehem, pictured here, and DG Whitefield could have a new owner, Stored Solar LLC, of Maine, but what the ownership looks like and what the company's plans are to make the biomass plants viable are currently unclear. (File photo)

Although the towns of Bethlehem and Whitefield were told a number of months ago that the biomass plants have a new owner, there is as yet no record of a transfer of ownership and no plans on how the company intends to make the facilities financially viable.

Following the governor’s veto in 2019 of a bill that would have required electric distribution companies, among them Eversource Energy, to purchase renewable energy credits from the wood-fired facilities to help keep them running until they become self-sufficient, the industry took a hit.

Plants across the state, including Pinetree Power in Bethlehem and DG Whitefield, both of which began operating three decades ago, were soon stalled, their fates uncertain.

On April 8, the Valley News reported that Stored Solar LLC, of West Enfield, Maine, acquired several plants last year, including Pinetree Power, owned or previously owned by the Houston-based ENGIE North America, and DG Whitefield, owned or previously owned by the New Jersey-based EWP Renewable Corp.

But officials in a number of New Hampshire towns who were made aware that there would be a change in ownership have reported no documents recording a sale or change in status coming across their desks.

Checks at the town offices of Whitefield and Bethlehem and with the registries of deeds at Grafton and Coos counties show no records of a transfer.

On April 30, William Harrington, manager and principal of Stored Solar, was contacted via email and asked if he has already bought or is buying the physical properties or the names of the plants; if EWP Renewable or ENGIE North America are still involved in any capacity with operations; what current operations are and how many employees are working there (at full capacity, the Bethlehem and Whitefield plants employed some 20 people); if the plants are currently accepting wood deliveries; which times of the year the plants are expected to be running; and what his plan is to make operations viable.

A voicemail message was also left with Harrington on Friday.

No response was received as of press time Friday.

Inquiries made on April 30 and on Monday to Sandrine Deparis, spokesperson for ENGIE North America, to determine if ENGIE is still involved with Pinetree Power and if Stored Solar bought the physical property or bought the name or is planning a purchase did not receive a response.

A voice mail message left on Friday with Ed Kent, of EWP, regarding the status of DG Whitefield and if EWP is still involved in operations and ownership was not returned by presstime.

It was undetermined how many employees remain at the Bethlehem and Whitefield facilities.

The current assessed value of the 16-megawatt DG Whitefield, at 260 Airport, is $1.75 million for the land and building.

The current assessed value of the 15-megawatt Pinetree Power, at 1241 Whitefield Rd./Route 116, is $894,600 for the land and building.

The town of Bethlehem was told by Harrington that he purchased Pinetree Power for about half of its assessed value and he will be requesting a tax abatement.

A tax abatement request was also filed with the town of Whitefield, but to date the ownership stated in the abatement, Stored Solar, could not be verified.

According to records at the New Hampshire Secretary of State’s office, Harrington registered the names Stored Solar Bethlehem LLC and Stored Solar Whitefield LLC with the state.

The Bethlehem name shows a mailing address with a P.O. box in West Enfield, Maine.

The Whitefield Stored Solar name shows a mailing address in Mt. Laurel, New Jersey.

On March 17, Vermont Digger reported that Stored Solar purchased the Ryegate Power Station in Vermont.

On Tuesday, town officials with Ryegate said they were informed a number of months ago that the Ryegate Power Station would be under new ownership, but no record of a transaction has been seen there.

According to the Valley News story, Stored Solar also bought biomass plants in the New Hampshire towns of Springfield, where EWP has operated the plant, and in Tamworth, where ENGIE had been running a plant.

The Springfield plant was last assessed at $1.166 million.

In Springfield, Stored Solar filed for a tax abatement in February, saying that plant was bought “at fair market value in a bidding process dramatically below the assessed value,” according to the Valley News.

According to Stored Solar’s website, the name solar refers to biomass as stored solar energy and not energy generated from solar panel arrays.

Stored Solar was incorporated in Maine in 2016.

State Contact With Stored Solar

Meeting with Harrington in August and currently working with him is Benoit Lamontagne, industrial agent with the Division of Economic Development of the New Hampshire Department of Business and Economic Affairs.

“They are looking at different options at this point on what they’re going to do with each one of the four plants,” Lamontagne said Friday.

The plants in Bethlehem and Whitefield are not yet back in operation.

“We’ve had several meetings in Whitefield at the plant and I do know they are in the process of looking at specific options for both plants,” he said.

The majority stockholder of the company, Fahim Samaha, the president of Stored Solar, is from Paris, France, and Lamontagne has spoken with him as well.

Harrington is based outside of Chicago.

The BEA’s involvement with Stored Solar, said Lamontagne, is the same as the department’s involvement with any manufacturing business looking to set up shop in New Hampshire - assessing the business’s needs; connecting it to financial and other resources; helping with employment needs; assisting with any permitting that might be required, such as from the Department of Environmental Services; connecting to any federal resources; and keeping a focus on business retention, expansion, and recruitment.

“We help businesses to be successful and create as many jobs as they can,” he said. “Both Bill and Fahim have been wonderful to deal with and they are exploring all the possibilities that can be sent their way.”

Stored Solar also reportedly owns two biomass plants in Maine and one in Massachusetts.

According to a company profile on Dun and Bradstreet, Stored Solar in the United States has 35 employees and generates nearly $6 million in sales annually.

Proponents of biomass in New Hampshire say the wood-fired plants serve a vital role by taking the low-grade wood from forests to keep forests healthy and by helping making the state’s energy portfolio more diverse and renewable.

They had supported legislation to subsidize the plants, which in recent years were having a tough go of competing on the wholesale market and with other sources of renewable energy.

When operating, the biomass plants consumed more than 40 percent of low-grade timber in New Hampshire.

According to a Plymouth State University study, the biomass industry had contributed some $250 million annually to local economies and supported direct jobs, as well as indirect jobs in supporting industries.

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