Mill meeting to address biomass issue

Posted Feb. 13, 2009, at 9:23 p.m.
Last modified Feb. 13, 2011, at 11:06 a.m.

MILLINOCKET, Maine — Brookfield Asset Management will meet with town officials early next month to discuss plans for the Katahdin Avenue paper mill and the outcome of the company’s ongoing $1.5 million assessment of the mill’s potential for biomass electricity generation.

Town Manager Eugene Conlogue told the Town Council during its meeting Thursday that Daniel Whyte, a vice president of government and stakeholder relations for Brookfield Renewable Power, a Brookfield Asset subsidiary, related that the study group would seek an early March meeting.

Gov. John Baldacci also might meet with the group as well.

“Nothing has been set up at this point, although there is a possibility of a meeting sometime late this month or early next month,” Dan Cashman, Baldacci’s assistant press secretary, said by e-mail Friday.

Brookfield Asset is working to wean its Katahdin Paper Co. LLC mill from its profit-killing addiction to oil and reopen it as a top-tier paper manufacturer after shutting down the mill in early September and eventually laying off most of its 207 workers.

The company also has begun furloughing some workers for up to four weeks at a time from its East Millinocket plant as it seeks to improve cash flow and limited on-spec paper production. Together the mills, operating as Katahdin Paper, are the region’s largest employer.

Company officials have said it would take at least eight to 10 months to restart the mill once the assessment is finished, provided they found a biomass partner to run the boiler.

In October, the company expected to spend about $310,000 winterizing the mill, $300,000 heating it over the winter and $336,000 for a heating unit inside the mill, Whyte had said.

Brookfield Asset also hired Cianbro Inc. and Babcock & Wilcox Inc. to provide an engineering assessment of the mill and of the costs to upgrade its No. 4 boiler and steam equipment to a biomass system. The biomass system would reuse mill steam and burn tree bark and other wood waste to generate electricity for the mill and the New England power grid.

The assessments alone could have cost as much as $500,000, according to officials from Fraser Papers, the Brookfield-owned company that manages the mill. The engineering work will help determine whether a previous bottom-line estimate of $50 million for restarting the mill was accurate.

The mill burned 400,000 barrels of oil in 2007, but had dramatically increased savings by lowering energy costs, investing $5 million in the East Millinocket plant’s groundwood mill and finding an additional $2 million in savings annually that vastly improved the already good-quality paper made at the mill.

One potential upside to the long mill layoff and biomass construction: Once the work is complete, supplying the mill with 385,000 green tons of biomass — the equivalent of about 400,000 cords of wood — likely would employ many woodsmen and truckers, company officials have said.

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