LINCOLN, Maine — Lincoln Paper & Tissue LLC leaders hope within a few months to have a deal made to get their mill machinery operating on natural gas that isn’t trucked to the facility, co-owner Keith Van Scotter says.
Calling the plan “a major improvement for us,” Van Scotter said the plan would involve a natural gas pipeline or other form of conveyance. It likely will be the mill’s most significant planned improvement for 2013, he said.
“We want to continue to improve incrementally through the next year; to get natural gas done this year and maybe next year look at doing some other things,” Van Scotter said.
Van Scotter’s brief announcement comes almost a year after subcontractors finished a $2 million conversion to liquefied natural gas at the mill that was expected to save the paper and tissue maker as much as 30 percent of its major energy costs.
The company had already started running its No. 7 tissue-making machine on liquefied natural gas and finished the conversion of No. 8, which also produces tissue, in late February 2012. Work began on the changeover in fall 2011.
The LePage administration has committed to helping natural-gas suppliers and Maine businesses prepare to run a branch line — a 6- to 8-inch pipe — about 60 or 70 miles from the Old Town area through Lincoln and into the Katahdin region, where it would supply the two Great Northern Paper Co. mills, state energy office officials have said.
Private investors would build the branch sometime this year. It would extend from Maine’s largest natural gas conduit, the Maritimes and Northeast Pipeline, which stretches from Canada to Portland. It is among three gas pipelines in Maine, officials said.
The natural gas Lincoln Paper & Tissue currently uses is delivered by truck. Van Scotter was not specific as to whether the new arrangement would involve pipes or another conveyance.
Drew Morris, spokesman for the Maine Department of Economic and Community Development, said he had no information immediately available Wednesday on the status of the proposed pipeline into the Lincoln Lakes and Katahdin regions.
LePage has pressed to expand the availability of natural gas in Maine. Plans to build a pipeline stretching from Windsor to Augusta that would serve state offices and position the company to expand service throughout Kennebec Valley have been put on hold as two companies compete for that job.
Maine Natural Gas has appealed the rejection of its award in Kennebec County Superior Court to build the Kennebec Valley pipeline, and the state has yet to issue another request for bids from companies hoping to supply gas to state-owned facilities in Augusta and Gardiner.
Meanwhile, Summit Natural Gas is awaiting full approval from the state to operate as a gas utility in Maine, a designation that would allow the company to start installing pipeline in Kennebec Valley and hooking up customers.
Officials in the Katahdin and Lincoln Lakes regions have said they await word from the state as to the status of the pipeline into their areas, calling that line a cornerstone to their economic development plans.
Lincoln Paper & Tissue LLC is a leading maker of tissue products used in medical facilities and as party goods, employing about 390 workers at its facility on Katahdin Avenue.