Operators of the Ryegate Power Station, which supplies about 3% of the electricity that Vermonters consume, said they hope to have the plant running again by the end of the week after it closed down Nov. 23.
The facility, which burns wood chips to create electricity, has run low on wood fuel, Seven Days first reported. Loggers who sell wood chips to the power station have recently complained that they haven’t been paid on time by Ryegate, and some have decided to sell their products elsewhere.
“I can say, to the best of my knowledge, all of the wood producers are paid up to date,” said Doug Morrison, operations supervisor at Ryegate Power Station.
Many of the loggers have also been affected by ripple effects of a bankruptcy proceeding taking place in multiple other states. A judge recently ordered Stored Solar Enterprises LLC, which owns wood-burning power plants around New England, to sell its assets to pay millions of dollars in debts.
Ryegate Associates, which operates the Ryegate Power Station, is a subsidiary of Stored Solar, but the bankruptcy does not include Ryegate station or its direct parent companies.
On Tuesday, an attorney for Ryegate Associates filed a request for an extension in a separate, ongoing case before the Vermont Public Utility Commission. In the request, the attorney cited “the recent, temporary shut down of Ryegate’s biomass plant due to a fuel shortage.”
“Ryegate has been diligently working to replenish its fuel stockpile and is expecting to resume operations as early as this Friday,” the filing notes.
Loggers have also been impacted by high fuel prices and inflation and a number of loggers have left the industry in recent years. Recent wet conditions have made harvesting more immediately challenging.
“The Covid trickle-down effect has affected every industry, from logging to power plants to McDonald’s,” Morrison said.
The plant shuts down on occasion as its operators adjust to weather conditions, Morrison said. While November and December are typically cold months, this fall’s mild weather has plant operators stockpiling wood for freezing temperatures, when they need to keep the plant running.
“It's not regular, but it's not unheard of,” Morrison said. “It’s predicting the weather and controlling the temperature.”
Samuel Lincoln, who owns Lincoln Farm Timber Harvesting in Randolph, said he knows of several loggers who have stopped selling products to Ryegate because of fluctuations with payment.
“I know loggers are choosing to deliver to other plants right now because they cannot risk not being paid, and the unpredictability of the situation,” he said.
Ryegate produces about 160,000 megawatt hours of electricity per year, accounting for 3% of Vermont’s consumption, according to state officials. Vermont imports more than half of the electricity that it consumes, and Ryegate’s contribution represents an even higher percentage of the electricity produced in-state at 7.4%.
According to a report published in March 2022, the power station employs an average of 20 workers and provides more than $1.8 million in compensation, including wages and benefits, each year.
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