NORTH BENNINGTON — The Vermont Tissue Paper mill hydroelectric power plant, which was restored to use by the late Bill Scully, is under contract to be purchased by a Vermont group that invests in alternative energy facilities.
The Bennington Select Board on Monday will consider a proposed net-metering agreement with the new owners, similar to an agreement the town had to purchase electricity credits at a discount from Scully’s company, Carbon Zero, LLC.
The old mill dam and hydro plant on the Walloomsac river off Route 67A was the first of two in the county Scully and his wife Maria reconstructed and brought back into service after several decades.
According to the agreement the Select Board will review, the new owner will be North Bennington Hydroelectric, LLC, based in Plainfield, with Arion Thiboumery as manager.
Reached Friday by phone, Thiboumery said he and others in a group have invested in hydroelectric and solar generating facilities around the region.
The net-metering agreement the Select Board will consider is similar to the agreement the town had with Scully, and will provide electricity at a discounted rate for several town buildings.
REPAIRS NEEDEDThe Tissue Mill facility has, however, been idle since May 2018, when an underwater pressurized air drilling accident just upstream from the plant’s water intake area blew up a large amount of riverbed silt. That forced a shutdown of the plant to prevent damage to the generating turbines, and the facility has remained idle as issues surrounding liability for the expected high cost of restarting the hydro plant were unresolved.
Town Manager Stuart Hurd said Sunday in an email, “Í believe those claims remain to be resolved possibly through the sale. The contractor’s insurance has been carrying the load. The town has been more of a monitor.”
Although the drilling was being done for a town water system project, town officials have contended that the liability should fall on the contractors. They included water line general contractor, Schultz Construction Inc., of Ballston Spa, N.Y., and the drilling subcontractor, PDD Contracting, LLC, of East Greenbush, N.Y.
The accident occurred when the drilling subcontractor was attempting to create a hole for a water line under the bed of the Walloomsac roughly beneath the Paper Mill covered bridge, which is about 40 feet upstream from the mill dam and connects with Route 67A with Murphy Road.
The water line installation was part of a larger project to connect to the system properties with wells contaminated by PFOA (perfluorooctanoic acid) that emanated from the stacks of the former ChemFab Corp. factories in Bennington and North Bennington.
The municipal water line work was being funded by Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics, which was deemed by the state the responsible party for the PFOA contamination, having acquired the former ChemFab Corp. in 2000 before closing the last plant, in North Bennington, in 2002.
Scully at one time estimated the cost of restarting the 360-kilowatt capacity Tissue Mill facility to be in the range of $1.2 million, based on consultation with manufacturers of the turbines and other equipment.
Thiboumery said Friday his group has examined the turbines in place, but a final cost figure for restarting the plant won’t be clear until the equipment is disassembled.
He also said the agreement to purchase the facility from Carbon Zero, LLC, won’t be finalized until licensing approvals are received from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.
Thiboumery declined to release the proposed purchase price.
HYDRO PIONEERScully died in July after a battle with cancer.
Also a Bennington College graduate and restaurant owner, he was one of the first alternate energy developers in decades to navigate federal and state licensing requirements in order reopen an old factory electricity generating plant in 2016.
He was elected to the Select Board in 2019.
In addition to the Vermont Tissue Mill plant, Scully went on to restore the former North Pownal mill hydro facility at the site of a former textile and later tanning factory on the Hoosic River in the village. That has a listed generating capacity of 500 kilowatts.
A company he formed, Hoosic River Hydro, LLC, operates the Pownal facility.