MILLINOCKET, Maine — Brookfield Renewable Power has bid to supply electricity to the state’s utilities from a biomass boiler it hopes to install at its local paper mill, a next step among several needed to restart the mill, a company spokeswoman said Wednesday.
Brookfield submitted the bid for a 20-year contract to the Maine Public Utilities Commission last week and hopes to have negotiations concluded within two months, said Julie Smith-Galvin, the company’s spokeswoman.
A signed contract to supply electricity to Bangor Hydro-Electric Co. and Central Maine Power Co. would not guarantee a mill reopening, nor set a timeline for its restart, but it would make finding a partner to run the biomass operations much easier, Smith-Galvin said.
“It’s a very important step in getting there,” Smith-Galvin said Wednesday. “We have found that we really need this contract to attract one [a partner]. We definitely won’t reopen the mill without the biomass boiler there.”
Evelyn deFrees, public information officer for the Maine Public Utilities Commission, declined to comment on any bid submitted by Brookfield.
“Names and information about any entity bidding long-term contracts are confidential, including confirming whether or not one or another has bid at all,” deFrees said via e-mail on Wednesday.
Millinocket Town Manager Eugene Conlogue said he was unaware that Brookfield had submitted a bid.
“We have not been made aware of any progress recently,” Conlogue said.
Daniel Whyte, a vice president at Brookfield Renewable Power, told town leaders during a 1½-hour meeting in March that Brookfield must secure 15- to 20-year contracts with the PUC for the 40 megawatts generated by the mill and the company’s hydropower dams. He said the company also needs similar contracts with several large landowners, who would supply biomass for the electricity-generating boiler, before an investor will come forward to run the biomass operations and help restart the mill, which makes coated calendar papers.
Landowners have expressed interest in supplying biomass to the mill and Brookfield has been working on its electricity bid package since then, company officials said.
The town’s biggest employer, the mill shut down in September 2008, idling most of its 207 workers, because of its profit-killing use of oil, which the mill burned to create steam needed for papermaking. The mill burned more than 200,000 barrels of oil in 2007.
Under Brookfield’s plan, the new boiler would reuse mill steam and burn biomass — tree bark and other wood waste — to generate steam and electricity for the mill and state utilities. Talks with several landowners have been very fruitful, and Brookfield plans to apply next month to the PUC to secure a contract allowing the mill to sell electricity to the grid, Whyte said.
However, the biomass conversion itself will take 10 to 12 months once a partner is found. Brookfield thought it had one in summer 2008, but that party dropped out when it learned of the engineering work needed to install a biomass boiler at the mill.
Brookfield Asset Management, a Toronto-based parent company of Brookfield Renewable and Katahdin Paper, subcontracted for and finished that work over last winter, but has no interest in installing or running a biomass boiler at the mill. Such work is outside the multibillion-dollar international conglomerate’s “core competencies,” company officials have said.
Town, state and federal officials have promised to do all they can to revitalize the mill.