National firm proposes new wood fuel pellet mill in tiny Washington County community

Posted Feb. 28, 2014, at 1:31 p.m.

BARING, Maine — Residents of Baring Plantation have endorsed proposed plans by a company with operations in nearby Baileyville to develop a wood fuel pellet plant in their community.

The endorsement for Fulghum Fibres, which operates a wood chip mill in Baileyville, came in the form of a warrant item approved during Baring’s annual town meeting on Feb. 20. Twenty-three residents attended the meeting, and they voted unanimously to approve the endorsement, according to Dale Olsson, a member of the Board of Selectmen.

“None of this is set in stone,” said Olsson, discussing the proposed pellet mill this week. The company was seeking an indication of “good faith” from the community that it would welcome the business, he said.

“It’s something we’d like to see come here… I’ll tell you that,” said Olsson. Baring has virtually no businesses except for a warehouse and one small enterprise, he said. A large area of the community is contained in Moosehorn National Wildlife Refuge, he noted.

Olsson had no specific knowledge of the proposed pellet mill and referred questions to the company. Neither did he know what the potential tax revenue would be to Baring if the mill is developed.

“It’s going to help us, but we’re not going to know… for a couple of years,” he said.

Mark Seavey, manager of the Fulghum Fibres plant in Baileyville, declined Thursday to discuss the proposed plant, referring questions to California-based Rentech Inc., which acquired Fulghum Fibres last year. Fulghum Fibres has operated the chip mill in Baileyville about 15 years, said Seavey. It supplies wood chips to the Woodland Pulp mill in Baileyville and employs 38 people.

A Rentech spokeswoman did not immediately respond to an email request for information.

Rentech, an energy-related business that expanded into to the fertilizer industry in 2006, announced in May 2013 that it had acquired Fulghum Fibres for $112 million, including assumed debt. It also announced it was entering the wood fuel pellet industry by acquiring two wood fiber plants in Ontario that will be converted to produce pellets; the converted plants are scheduled to come online in 2014 and will supply fuel pellets to power plants.

The two Ontario pellet plants would make Rentech the largest producer of industrial wood pellets using fiber from Eastern Canada, according to the company.

The acquisition also included a joint venture with Graanul Invest, a large European producer of pellets, to develop and build pellet plants in the U.S. and Canada.

“These steps position Rentech to develop a world-class wood processing business for production of high-quality wood chips and pellets,” the company said in a news release announcing the acquisitions.

“With our long-term customer contracts, processing expertise and logistics in place, Rentech is positioned to execute on our objective to be a leader in the rapidly growing global market for wood pellet production,” D. Hunt Ramsbottom, president and CEO of Rentech, said in the company’s announcement.

According to Rentech, global demand for wood pellets is projected to triple to 50 million metric tons by 2020. The acquisitions positioned the company to quickly become an industrial-scale supplier of wood pellets from Eastern Canada to the Canadian and European utility markets.

Fulghum Fibres is based in Augusta, Ga. Established in 1989, it is a leader in contract fiber processing services. It processes approximately 15 million metric tons of wood and bark annually into wood chips and residual fuels at its 32 mills, 26 of which are located in the U.S. Six mills in South America provide wood chipping services and export chips to customers primarily in Japan. Fulghum Fibres operates primarily under long-term contracts and services industrial forestry companies such as Georgia Pacific, International Paper and Weyerhaeuser.

The Baileyville plant is the company’s only chip mill in Maine, according to information on the Rentech website. The company’s other chip mills are located in the South, with four in Virginia and 21 others in Arkansas, Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia and Florida.

Rentech also is a supplier of nitrogen fertilizers and owns patented technologies for synthetic fuels and power production that can be licensed by third parties. It was founded in 1981 as a business to develop synthetic fuel technology.

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