EAST MILLINOCKET, Maine — Even as they were celebrating their company’s first year of operations on Thursday, the leaders of the new Great Northern Paper Co. planned for the second, and a few after that, too.
Amid the banners, guided tours of the mill’s No. 5 and 6 papermaking machines and several hundred guests at GNP’s birthday party, company President and CEO Richard Cyr announced a $1.5 million plan to replace the plant’s No. 2 heating oil burner with a liquid natural gas burner. The preparation work is ongoing, the new burner is ordered and the installation should be finished by April, Cyr said.
“The gas conversion has nothing to do with the added capacity or efficiency to the machines,” Cyr said Thursday. “The sales and marketing effort drives that. The ability to then make the orders because we can continuously run both machines? That’s what’s tied to the gas conversion.”
“So we see it as a structural component to the business,” Cyr added.
The liquid natural gas conversion is being done now, Cyr said, to prepare for the installation of an industrial natural-gas pipeline within a few years that will run from the Old Town area through Lincoln to Millinocket. Gov. Paul LePage has pledged to support the project, which is in development.
Natural gas is about 50 percent less costly than No. 2 oil, but that doesn’t mean the mill’s energy costs will be halved, Cyr said. The mill’s bark boiler, which is the primary burner for papermaking operations, already significantly undercuts the cost of oil and gas. The LNG boiler will supplement the bark boiler, he said.
The boiler conversion, company workers say, is the kind of thing that makes one-year anniversaries possible. Cate Street Capital, GNP’s parent company, is different from its predecessors, which had seldom invested in permanent fixes.
“They want to put the money back into it,” said James Stanley, an oiler and craftsman from Medway who works at the Main Street mill, “and get things back. Like [Cyr] told us, ‘We are here to stay.’ Like I say, he is very positive.”
Cyr also assembled some of the most experienced mill workers and executives in Maine, Stanley said. “They’ve been here before, and they know what they are doing,” Stanley said.
U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud, who worked for the original GNP at its East Millinocket mill before his election to Congress; several town and state leaders; Rosaire Pelletier, Gov. Paul LePage’s forest products industry advisor; and George Gervais, commissioner of the Maine Department of Economic and Community Development, were among the attendees.
Cyr paid homage to the original GNP, which filed for bankruptcy in 2002, ending more than 100 years of paper hegemony in northern Maine, by rededicating two large brass plaques that he said once adorned the No. 5 and No. 6 paper mills.
The large plaques now hang in the main hallway at the company’s mill.
The company reopened in early October 2011 with about 215 workers. It now employs 257 making newsprint, with about 38 days of back orders and one of its two machines running three days a week. The other machine runs 24-7.