Ayotte tours biomass plant construction in NH's North Country - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

Ayotte tours biomass plant construction in NH's North Country

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Sen. Kelly Ayotte surveyed work Wednesday at what will soon be a new biomass plant in Berlin, N.H. It's a project that's turning a defunct paper mill into an energy source.

"It's wonderful to see that it is also going to be a great source of renewable power," said Ayotte, R-New Hampshire.

On this day, there are more than 500 workers piecing together the plant. It's owned by Cate Street Capital, an investment firm that specializes in renewables.

"It's really a big infusion into the forest industry that has really been impacted over the last couple of years or the last decade," said Alex Ritchie of Cate Street Capital.

And Main Street has felt that impact as paper mills in Berlin and surrounding towns fell by the wayside. But new life means new money for a community that was built around the logging industry.

"It's encouraging to see all the new people in town between the biomass plant and the prisons," said Rachel Eastman of Berlin, N.H.

Earlier in the day, Ayotte met with medical staff at Androscoggin Valley Hospital, Berlin's largest employer. The facility is used to weathering the uncertain economic times, but recently, it took a big hit-- more than $400,000 in federal cuts-- a source of frustration for those trying to look to the future.

"With sequester as an example, we didn't know until the night before it went into effect. And that is something that hampers our ability to effectively deal with change," said Russell Keene of Androscoggin Valley Hospital.

In this region, change is coming-- machines moving equipment, a single stack getting ready to smoke. But more work lies ahead.

"Full broadband internet access throughout the area the North Country. I think that would also help spur economic development and jobs in the area," Ayotte said.

Around 30-40 people will run the plant when it's online, burning 750,000 tons of woods annually. And if you think that's a big number, the project price tag is even bigger.

"Two hundred and seventy-five million dollar undertaking. It's huge," Ritchie said.

The plant is expected to be online by the end of this year and when it is operating at full capacity, 100 logging trucks will be rolling in and out of this facility every single day, meaning "the city that the trees built" will be staying true to its name.

Ayotte also visited the paper mill in Gorham and an assisted living community in Whitefield.

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