PORTLAND, Maine — The New York-based owner of four biomass plants in Maine plans to restart its Ashland operation by the end of the year, with a ramp-up that will include hiring 25 people, buying mill and forest byproducts and assessing and re-tuning equipment.
Larry Richardson, ReEnergy’s CEO, said in a phone interview Monday that “a confluence” of factors led to the decision. The factors included additional power transmission capacity it secured within the past three months and JD Irving’s reopening of its shuttered Ashland sawmill that will provide biomass fuel.
“That is an example of an additional demand for a reliable and consistent outlet for mill residues,” Richardson said.
He said the company is in talks with Irving about purchasing fuel but has not signed any definitive agreements yet. Richardson said the company plans to sell its power to the regional grid and, as with its other facilities in Maine, may pursue other options, including selling that power to large industrial customers.
Between now and December, Richardson said the company is assessing its equipment on site, which he said it has maintained to allow for a relatively quick restart.
The 39-megawatt biomass plant has been idled since March 2011. ReEnergy purchased the Ashland plant and three others, in Fort Fairfield, Livermore Falls and Stratton, from Montreal-based Boralex Industries Inc. later that year for about $93 million.
Running at full capacity, the company said it estimates it will purchase about $16 million in fuel from area loggers.
In a prepared statement from the company, Town Manager Ralph Dwyer said the announcement is “great news for the community.”
“It will create many well-paying direct jobs at the plant as well as other indirect jobs supplying the facility with biomass fuel,” Dwyer said. “The Town of Ashland appreciates ReEnergy’s commitment to our community and looks forward to seeing the plant in operation again.”
Richardson said the company plans to start advertising for jobs at the plant this week and soon will start stockpiling fuel for the plant’s eventual round-the-clock operation schedule. He said the company plans to hire locally as much as possible to fill the plant’s approximately 25 positions.
The announcement was cheered by members of Maine’s congressional delegation and Gov. Paul LePage. Richardson said the company did not receive any state incentives but said political leaders have “been very consistent in their support of getting this facility back up and operating.”
LePage said in a statement that Patrick Woodcock, the director of the Governor’s Energy Office, helped start conversation with Emera Maine over how the biomass plant could increase the reliability of the region’s energy grid.
Susan Falloon, a spokeswoman for Emera, said that the company’s Fort Fairfield plant is the only generation resource operating in the region and having a second generation source will improve grid reliability there in the short-term.
When the Ashland plant restarts, the company said it will have 140 employees in Maine. The company is owned by private equity firm Riverstone Holdings and operates nine energy generating facilities in six states.