BUCKSPORT, Maine — Verso Paper Corp. is developing a “multimillion dollar” plan to upgrade a biomass boiler and to install another steam turbine at its Bucksport mill.
The project is in the late stages of development but it is a very complex process, according to Verso spokesman Bill Cohen. The company is still working on the financial package for the project, which still needs final approval from the Verso board of directors, Cohen said Friday.
“The Verso board has said at each stage of this project that we can go on to the next step,” he said. “But this is still subject to a board vote.”
Verso’s plan calls for an upgrade of the mill’s No. 8 boiler, which already burns biomass, Cohen said.
“The boiler already is set up to burn many different fuels,” he said. “We’re proposing to expand it so that it will burn more biomass and burn it more efficiently. That will allow us to add another turbine and sell electricity on the grid made from green, renewable energy.”
Currently, the mill relies mainly on a gas-fired turbine to run its operations. When it runs, the No. 8 boiler also provides electricity and steam for the mill. With the upgrades, Cohen said, the mill plans to run that boiler regularly, using the steam to power the new turbine.
Cohen said the project has been fueled by several developments this year, including a $2 million grant from the state for the boiler retrofit and approval earlier this month by the Maine Public Utilities Commission of a long-term contract with Verso for energy produced from the upgraded boiler.
Verso also plans to meet with the Bucksport Town Council next week to discuss the possibility of expanding existing tax increment financing agreements between the town and the mill to the planned project.
Cohen said it was too early to put a firm price tag on the project. He declined to comment on reports that the cost would be $35 million and said the company likely will provide the town with a price range when it meets with councilors next week. He confirmed, however, that it would be a multimillion-dollar project.
“It’s a big project,” he said. “We’re hopeful we can put it all together.”
The investment the company is making, he said, reflects Verso’s commitment to the state of Maine.
Until all the pieces are in place, Verso has no firm timetable for the improvements at the mill. Cohen said officials are hopeful that they will have a construction schedule in place by the end of the year.
“If we’re able to put the financial package together, and get all the environmental permits, and get the construction pieces together, we’re hopeful we could be generating power early in 2012,” he said.
The project will create short-term construction jobs at the mill, and add some indirect jobs in the woods providing fuel, Cohen said. On the operations side of this, however, it is unlikely that the project will create new jobs in the mill, he said.
The boiler-turbine project is the latest in a series of energy-related initiatives at Verso. Last fall, the company received a $9.3 million Department of Energy grant to develop a dozen energy efficiency projects in three of its mills, including its two mills in Maine at Bucksport and Jay. In January, Verso joined 31 other manufacturers around the country as charter members of the DOE’s Save Energy Now LEADER Program, pledging to reduce their industrial energy use by 25 percent during the next decade.
According to Cohen, those initiatives dovetail with Verso’s strategy, laid out last year in the company’s annual report by CEO Mike Jackson, to grow renewable power and curtail energy costs companywide.