LIMESTONE, Maine — Economic development on the former Loring Air Force Base is taking off with a bang with the scheduled implosion of the old heat plant next weekend.
The 64-year-old facility will go down at 11 a.m. Aug. 13, in the state’s largest planned implosion, to clear space for anticipated industrial and energy expansion by the Loring Development Authority.
“This is part of a complete rehabilitation plan and new development of the energy infrastructure at Loring,” Hayes Gahagan, projects manager with Loring BioEnergy LLC, said.
LBE owns the former heat plant and several other buildings on a 54-acre parcel at Loring.
While declining to talk specifics about those coming developments, Gahagan said it is no secret northern Maine must tie into the larger New England power grid before any advancements may be made in energy production at the Loring facility.
Those include a large solar array farm and industrial wind turbines.
In 2005, Loring BioEnergy LLC announced a $60 million project to construct a 55-megawatt cogeneration facility on 54 acres of land on which it had an option.
The parcel included, but did not directly involve, the former heat plant now slated for demolition.
It also included LBE’s lease of a 200-mile-long pipeline running from Loring to Searsport, which was used to bring jet fuel to the base when it was in operation as the nation’s largest Strategic Air Command base.
That $60 million project, along with the anticipated 700 construction jobs and 80 full-time jobs, was never implemented.
“The Loring [cogeneration] project was put on hold because of the lack of transmission,” Gahagan said. “That plan was stranded — along with those by Horizon Wind — because we are still waiting for transmission to the larger power grid.”
Carl Flora, LDA president and CEO, recalls the optimism of that construction plan and the continued road block due to lack of access to the New England grid.
“This 55-megawatt facility really had no market and no way to get to the markets, which is the dilemma facing the wind companies,” Flora said.
For a time, the CEO said, there was hope a large potato processor would locate on the base, which would have used power generated by the cogeneration facility.
“We were talking with Lamb Weston about putting a plant on the site and how the power would have benefited them,” Flora said. “But as time went on, we could not get Lamb Weston more than mildly interested so the whole project got put on the back shelf.”
At the time, LBE was a stakeholder in the Maine Power Connection, a partnership between Maine Public Service Co. and Central Maine Power, Gahagan said.
In 2008, the Maine Power Connection unsuccessfully lobbied the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission for a $625 million 200-mile, 345 kV transmission line with construction of new and upgraded substations to connect to the New England grid.
“We had high hopes,” Gahagan said. “But we’ve been stranded with the wind companies for at least five years.”
Over those years, LBE has maintained the lease on that 200-mile pipeline and the corridor it runs along.
“That corridor can accommodate additional uses, energy uses,” Flora said. “We have been talking to Loring BioEnergy about other potential uses.”
Those potential uses include the transport of natural gas from Searsport to Loring.
New businesses are coming into Loring and those industries need energy, Gahagan said, and the former base is well positioned to offer itself as an energy infrastructure center.
“Reliable energy is a huge part of the equation in attracting new industries and businesses,” Flora said.
At the start of the year, the LDA board of directors heard from Maine Energy Performances Solutions on developing a commercial-scale solar farm at Loring.
In April, the board heard from a representative of Iberdrola Renewables interested in virtually all of Loring’s 3,800 acres for a large wind farm facility.
According to the board’s April minutes, Edward Cherian of Iberdrola said Loring’s infrastructure, roads and wind resources make it a “dream sight” for a wind farm.
“There will be some very significant energy production developments coming [and] we are optimistic about working with the ‘green’ energy infrastructure,” Gahagan said. “We hope to announce those later this year.”