BUCKSPORT, Maine — The U.S. Department of Energy has awarded Verso Paper Corp. a $9.3 million grant to implement energy efficiency projects at three of its mills, including two mills in Maine.
The projects are expected to increase efficiency, save money, retain jobs and also generate new jobs locally.
Energy Secretary Steven Chu announced Tuesday that the Verso grant is included in a total of $155 million in federal stimulus funding for industrial energy efficiency projects.
Verso will match the stimulus grant with $9.7 million of company funding, providing a total of just over $19 million for 12 projects at the three mills in Bucksport, Jay and Sartell, Minn.
“That’s a huge investment for three mills,” said Verso spokesman Bill Cohen. “That’s an indication of the company’s commitment to pulp and paper and to Maine.”
Of the 12 projects, three will be done at Verso’s Androscoggin mill in Jay, and four will be done at its Bucksport mill. The grant includes five projects at the mill in Minnesota. The projects are generally described as projects designed to capture waste energy and put it to use in other mill operations, according to Cohen. The project focuses on the reuse of heat and water from mill operations for other mill processes.
One example focuses on the paper-drying process at the Bucksport mill, he said. A huge amount of heat is generated in that process and some of the heat is lost through hoods over the drying paper. One of the projects funded through the stimulus grant is designed to capture that waste heat and use it to heat water for use in other parts of the paper making process, he said.
According to DOE, the grants were awarded to paper mills that will generate the greatest energy savings and can be implemented immediately. The 12 projects at the three Verso mills are expected to increase efficiency by 33 percent and will save an estimated 1.2 trillion Btus annually.
“That is a tremendous energy and efficiency savings,” Cohen said. “That is significant for a company like ours.”
Increasing efficiency will translate into savings that will allow the company to remain competitive into the future and to retain the current work force, according to Dennis Castonguay, Verso’s manager of pulp and the project director for the grant application.
The three mills employ about 2,000 workers.
In addition, the projects will generate employment in each of the communities where the mills are located. Cohen and Castonguay said it is difficult to determine the number of jobs that will be created because the jobs will vary in type and length of employment depending on the project.
Some of the projects are “well along” in the planning and design process, while others have a way to go, Cohen said. Verso will need to work with DOE on the details, but Cohen said he expected work to begin on at least some of the projects early in 2010.
The grant requires that all work on the projects be completed no later than 2015, but Cohen said all 12 projects would be completed well before that deadline.