CONWAY — The planned wood chip-fueled heating and cooling power plant at the proposed Ridgeline Communities off Eagles Way in Redstone on May 31 received a $1 million federal grant, thanks to the collaborative efforts of New Hampshire’s congressional delegation.
In a press statement, U.S. Sens. Jeanne Shaheen and Maggie Hassan and U.S. Reps. Annie Kuster and Chris Pappas said the award will help Continuum modernize and streamline its proposed wood energy production, including through state-of-the-art engineering features to maximize efficiency and meet emission control standards.
Shaheen and Hassan both wrote letters in support of Continuum’s application for this award from the U.S. Forest Service within the Department of Agriculture, and it’s the second year in a row that a project in New Hampshire has been among the highest award recipients. The funding comes as part of a batch of awards announced through the Community Wood Energy Program Grants.
Conway selectmen in January wrote a letter of conditional support to Continuum consultant Charles Niebling to apply for the $1 million USFS Community Wood Energy and Wood Innovation Program grant that was approved this week. They also gave their support for a second for a $375,000 Renewable Energy Generation Project grant.
Selectmen took that vote in support of the two grant requests with the condition that the project still needs to come before the planning board later this year.
Niebling said the plant — including the boiler plant, distribution and building heat exchange — would cost about $5 million and said he was applying on behalf of Continuum for the two grants totaling $1.375 million toward that $5 million plus capital costs.
He touted energy savings and other benefits. “First, it is a renewable energy resource. Secondly, it will involve some very advanced technology featuring flue gas condensation and absorption chilling, making it a very attractive demonstration project. It will greatly reduce the operating costs of the owners of the (Ridgeline) community once it’s built. And it will provide a market for low-grade wood in the region to the tune of 3,000-3,500 tons a year,” said Niebling.
Niebling outlined the benefits to the local wood industry and said that is one reason why it is so favored by the U.S. Forest Service.
“That market is very important to private landowners as well as to the U.S. Forest Service which is one of the reasons we think they’re going to be really interested in this project in proximity to the to the National Forest,” said Niebling.
He said it would burn clean wood chips. He said Madison Pine Mil in Madison has expressed an interest in contributing supply and noted that operation has had a tough go of it in recent years, unloading supply after the pulp mill explosion in Jay, Maine of April 2020.
In a handout to selectmen, Niebling said the facility would provide heating to Continuum of North Conway, LLC’s proposed phased project that includes assisted living residential, medical and commercial buildings totaling more than 400,000 square feet occupied space.
Pending town approvals, the project is to be built on open land adjacent to Kennett High School off Route 302 and Eagles Way.
Shaheen, Hassan, Kuster and Pappas outlined their support for the project in prepared statements:
“Harnessing renewable energy from wood supports New Hampshire’s forest products industry and helps increase our energy independence. I’m thrilled to see $1 million awarded to Continuum in North Conway, which continues to be on the forefront of innovation in biomass and wood energy,” said Shaheen.
“Investing in wood energy helps our communities by reducing reliance on fossil fuels and strengthening our energy independence,” said Hassan.
“I am pleased to have helped secure this federal funding for Continuum in North Conway, so that they can continue to modernize. Energy efficiency not only helps the environment, but also supports good-paying jobs,” she said.
“Wood energy systems are essential to transitioning away from fossil fuels and ensuring American energy independence, and New Hampshire has the opportunity to be a leader in ongoing efforts to expand biomass energy production,” said Kuster.
“I’m pleased to see this funding heading to Continuum to upgrade their production capacity, create new jobs, and support our rural communities as they utilize low-carbon energy resources. I will continue working in Congress to advance smart energy policies and bolster energy security for generations to come.”
“These federal funds will help support New Hampshire’s forest industry, which is vital to our economic growth,” said Pappas. “It is critical that we invest in a more sustainable future and improve our energy independence. I’m pleased to see USDA award additional funds to Continuum to develop more energy-efficient infrastructure, spur economic growth, and lower energy costs for Granite State families.”
“We are very appreciative of the grant from USDA for this exciting renewable energy project,” said Joe Hogan, CEO of Continuum of North Conway, developers of the Ridgeline Community mixed commercial/assisted living campus.
“The support of Sens. Shaheen and Hassan, and Congressman Pappas demonstrates the statewide significance of this project, where we’ll use locally and sustainably sourced wood chips to virtually eliminate our need for imported fossil fuels to heat and cool the major buildings.”