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Verso targets efficiency, savings with help from DOE

Bangor Daily News | BDN
Bangor Daily News | BDN
Workers leave the Verso Paper mill in Bucksport Thursday afternoon, Feb. 26, 2009. Due to a low volume of orders, Verso will be idling production from Monday, March 9 until Monday, March 23. Most of the mill's 756 workers will be laid off during that time. BANGOR DAILY NEWS FILE PHOTO
By Rich Hewitt, BDN Staff

BUCKSPORT, Maine — Recent grants announced for the Verso Paper Co. will help support a wider efficiency move at the company’s four mills that puts Verso at the forefront of a nationwide effort to reduce industrial energy use.

Last month, Verso joined 31 other manufacturers around the country as charter members of the U.S. Department of Energy’s Save Energy Now LEADER Program. The program will provide technical assistance and resources to the companies, which have voluntarily signed a pledge to reduce their industrial energy use by 25 percent over the next decade.

The LEADER program is a new component of the DOE’s Save Energy Now initiative, in which companies partner with the department to identify energy- and cost-saving projects in their operations. The program will complement Verso’s own efforts to make its plants more efficient and effective in their energy use.

“The Save Energy Now program fits well with Verso’s energy strategy, which is to reduce energy consumption overall, generate more green energy from renewable biomass, and reduce our carbon footprint, while simultaneously reducing cost,” Verso President and CEO Mike Jackson said last month when the DOE launched the program. “This partnership pledge offers Verso an opportunity to utilize the expertise of the DOE staff and our engineers to implement the projects necessary to achieve the company’s energy efficiency goals.”

As part of the program, each of the company’s four mills will find projects to reduce energy use in those plants by 25 percent.

“We’ve been working on developing an energy strategy to lower costs, but also to improve efficiency,” said Verso spokesman Bill Cohen. “This partnership will help us to supersize our energy efficiency program.”

The goal, he said, is to work with DOE to identify areas in mill operations where there could be savings. The mill operations use a variety of energy sources including steam, water, electricity and heat. Cohen said they would be looking at these areas to create efficiencies, not just in costs, but in making use of those resources more effectively.

Verso already has identified several projects and has received a boost in the form of grant funding to develop and implement them.

In November, Verso received a $9.3 million Department of Energy grant that will be coupled with $9.7 million of company funds to develop 12 energy efficiency projects in three of its mills, the two in Maine — at Bucksport and Jay — and in Sartell, Minn. Those projects, which will focus on recapturing wasted energy from a variety of sources for reuse in the mills, are expected to increase efficiency companywide by about 33 percent and save an estimated 1.2 trillion Btu annually.

Engineers have been working on the designs for some of those projects, and work is expected to begin on at least some of them sometime this year.

Earlier this month, Gov. John Baldacci announced $8.9 million in grants, including $2 million to Verso that will go toward a retrofit of the multifuel boiler at the Bucksport mill. Funding for the $45.9 million project will come from a variety of sources, including an investment from Verso itself.

The project is part of an effort to move toward “green power,” according to Cohen. The multifuel boiler now burns several different types of fuel including oil, gas, biomass and even tires.

“We’ve been looking to see if we can do some things around biomass and green power,” Cohen said. “We’re going to make modifications to the boiler to make it significantly more green. We’re looking at burning far less fossil-based fuels. When we’re all done, this will be a huge investment in internal efficiencies and in the generation of green power.”

The projects will create a number of jobs at the mills during the construction period, but, Cohen said, it is unlikely they will result in more than a few long-term positions within the company. The efficiency efforts, he said, will help to keep the mills operating competitively and at capacity, so that it can keep existing jobs.

“It’s really more about job retention,” Cohen said. “Obviously, when you make all these improvements to older equipment, you’re going to reduce costs so that we can be competitive. It’s one piece of the puzzle. It is one variable that will be better under control to help us remain competitive and to operate at full capacity.”

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