Rockingham faces deadline for hydro-dam purchase

Print More

(Host) Time is running out for the town of Rockingham to put together financing to buy the Bellows Falls hydroelectric dam. Under an agreement with the dam’s owners, U.S. Gen New England, Rockingham has until December 1 to buy the generating facility.

But as VPR’s Susan Keese reports, the real deadline is much sooner.

(Keese) Lamont Barnett, the chairman of the Rockingham Select Board, hasn’t given up hope that the town can buy the dam. But he says the town’s in a bind because the Vermont Public Power Supply Authority decided against a partnership on the sale. As Barnett sees it, Rockingham has until sometime next week to put the deal together.

(Barnett) “Realistically it’s probably the middle of October because then you’re just really out of time. Just through simple, backing away from December 1 you have to have 30 days for a warnings for meetings and votes and whatnot.”

(Keese) Two years ago the town voted overwhelmingly to try to buy the dam. After several unsuccessful offers, Rockingham tried to force the sale by eminent domain. Not long after, U.S. Gen New England, which has filed for bankruptcy, agreed to sell the dams for $72 million.

If Rockingham can’t make the December 1 deadline, the agreement bars the town from trying to force the sale through eminent domain for another decade. Barnett and other supporters say buying the dams will stabilize the town’s tax situation and promote job growth with cheap, renewable power.

But Rockingham can only use 15 percent of the power the dams produce. To meet the purchase price it needs a partner to contract for the other 85 percent. The town had hoped that partner would be the Vermont Public Power Supply Authority, a statewide group of municipal utilities. Now the town and its consultants are working to attract another partner. Selectman Barnett:

(Barnett) “The biggest sticking point is the amount of time that we have to pay for it. Most lending institutions will not go beyond the length of a license and the license expires in 2018. So that means the $72 million option has to be paid for by 2018, which doesn’t really leave enough time to sell the power at a good price. To come up with $72 million means we’re going to have to sell it in the five cents-plus kilowatt range, and most wholesalers out there aren’t paying that much right now.”

(Keese) Meanwhile, Senator Vince Illuzzi, who supports public power, said he believes U.S. Gen agreed to the deal knowing it would be difficult for Rockingham to make it work.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Susan Keese.

Comments are closed.