EAST MILLINOCKET, Maine — U.S. Sen. Susan Collins emerged from a closed-door meeting with owners of the new Great Northern Paper Co. LLC mill confident that company plans to produce biocoal would result in big dividends for the Katahdin region, she said Thursday.
Collins, R-Maine, reviewed the mill’s papermaking operations, plans to manufacture torrefied wood at the Millinocket mill starting in November, and both mills’ need for a natural gas line proposed by Gov. Paul LePage.
She promised to help the company realize its plans and diversify its products by helping it secure federal funding for the pipeline and its biocoal production.
“One of the things it is important to realize about [GNP parent company] Cate Street Capital is that they are putting in almost all of their own money to make their plans happen,” Collins said. “I think the future of this area is far brighter because of them than it has been in a long time.”
Cate Street subsidiary Thermogen Industries LLC announced on Dec. 1 that it had secured exclusive rights from Scotland-based Rotawave Biocoal to manufacture a type of machine — called the Targeted Intelligent Energy System, or TIES — that makes biocoal intended to replace coal burned at electricity plants, for $20 million.
Thermogen plans to install five to 10 TIES machines in Millinocket starting in November. Creating jobs for 22 to 25 workers directly and dozens of truckers, loggers and other support providers indirectly, the first $35 million TIES machine would supply United Kingdom utilities with biocoal, company officials have said.
Millinocket would be the site of the first of four or five biocoal mills eventually nationwide.
Thermogen has secured several 15-year biocoal contracts with British utilities and begun applying for air-quality permits with several regulatory agencies, Cate Street spokesman Scott Tranchemontagne said Thursday.
Plans for the first biocoal machine in Millinocket are about halfway finished and company officials hope to begin building the machines on-site in early spring, he said.
GNP, meanwhile, has secured papermaking contracts for all of 2012 and is working on filling next year’s calendar, Tranchemontagne said.
While Thermogen’s plans for biocoal production have tight deadlines, no such looming target dates define Great Northern’s plans for the Millinocket mill’s No. 11 paper machine, Tranchemontagne said.
The company is hopeful that market demands will rise enough to make that mill’s revival an immediate possibility, but the mill really needs to replace its oil burners with generators fired by natural gas to make a near-term restart feasible, Tranchemontagne said.
The natural gas line won’t be installed for at least two years, state officials have said.
Collins had been told that a biomass boiler would make a quick restart workable, but plunging natural-gas prices make the pipeline the company’s best energy option, she said.