MILLINOCKET, Maine — Brookfield Asset Management officials will discuss plans to revitalize the Katahdin Paper Co. LLC mill when they meet privately with town leaders at 4 p.m. today, Town Manager Eugene Conlogue said Monday.
Brookfield officials told U.S. Sen. Olympia J. Snowe, R-Maine, on Friday that they had almost finished their $1.5 million biomass conversion study and that the conversion seemed viable. The study began last fall. Brookfield hopes to start soliciting bids on the conversion soon, if other conditions can be met, Snowe said in a statement.
“The company will now begin the next major step and seek support for its conversion to a biomass-powered mill,” Snowe said.
The mill’s oil-fueled steam generators must be replaced with generators that burn biomass, typically tree wastes, for the mill to survive, Brookfield has said. The mill shut down Sept. 2, laying off most of its 207 workers, because of the then-high cost of oil, which the mill burns to make steam for papermaking.
About 400,000 barrels of oil were burned at the mill in 2007 despite engineering changes that dramatically increased savings by lowering energy costs and union concessions that helped lower payroll costs and improve efficiency.
Katahdin Paper’s other mill, in East Millinocket, has been beset by furloughs but recently has been running at full capacity.
“It will be a pretty comprehensive meeting and will give us an update as to where they are in the process,” Conlogue said Monday of the meeting, which will be at Town Hall.
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 began winterizing the mill, heated it over the winter and installed a $336,000 heating unit inside it.
Under Brookfield’s plan, the new 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.
“If successful, an energy-efficient biomass boiler will end the paper mill’s reliance on oil, protect the mill from the volatility of energy prices, and the company may be able to resume operations and offer employment opportunities for the region’s workers,” Snowe said.
Snowe and other members of Maine’s congressional delegation helped the mill by securing a U.S. Department of Energy audit of the mill last summer. Snowe said she also spearheaded an effort to include a three-year extension of the Renewable Energy Production Tax Credit in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, which will facilitate the mill’s transfer to biomass energy production.