June 23, 2018
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Consultant to study Millinocket utility options

By Nick Sambides Jr., BDN Staff

MILLINOCKET, Maine — A Boston-based consultant will help the Town Council pursue the creation of a public electric utility that could vastly lower utility customers’ electric rates, officials said Friday.

La Capra Associates of Boston will meet with the council in a workshop session on Aug. 27 to acquaint councilors with their services and define the company’s agenda, Town Manager Eugene Conlogue said.

“We will outline a little bit more of what we are looking for,” Conlogue said Friday. “That’s the next big step in this process.”

The council voted 6-0 during its meeting on Thursday to hire La Capra, Conlogue said. The consulting firm will be paid $19,400 for its efforts.

La Capra Associates defines itself as an energy services consulting firm “providing objective, strategic advice and expertise to utilities, regulators, consumers and market participants within the electricity, natural gas and water industries,” according to its Web site, www.lacapra.com.

La Capra Associates serves both a national and international client base from offices in Boston and Portland.

Given the Katahdin region’s need for greater industry and employment opportunities and the enticement provided by the lower electricity rates that public utilities generally charge, the council agreed to study the issue in November at then-Councilor Scott Gonya’s suggestion.

Millinocket already has hydropower dams and generation lines, and the proliferation of wind farms around the state is another factor. Lincoln officials also are informally discussing formation of a public electric utility.

Council efforts at creating the public utility went on hold as the long process of shaping the town’s budgets began in the spring, but several councilors visited a public utility, Madison Electric Works, and Backyard Farms of Madison in February. The utility offers electricity at 13 cents per kilowatt-hour, among Maine’s lowest rates, which prompted Backyard Farms to move there.

Councilors said they would love to see low electricity rates entice a company like Backyard Farms to Millinocket. Backyard Farms employs 130 full-time workers at its 27-acre greenhouse, the largest building in New England. The company is building a second, 19-acre greenhouse for spring that will put about 175 workers on its payroll.

Now the council’s chairman, Gonya suggested using a $75,000 regional economic development payment, issued by an agreement with Brookfield Renewable Resources in the event of a mill shutdown, to help fund the public utility startup or research.

Though most of that money went to fund the construction of an all-purpose recreational bridge over the West Branch of the Penobscot River, that decision in no way indicated a decrease in interest in creating a public utility, councilors have said.

Madison has some resemblance to Millinocket. It has about 4,500 residents, sits on the Kennebec River and has a paper mill. As of 2007, Madison Paper Industries was listed as employing 260 people making catalog papers and paper for The New York Times Magazine.

Millinocket has about 5,000 residents and a paper mill, which, though temporarily shut down since September, employs about 150 people. It has an industrial park, a great deal of open space in and around it, electricity-generating dams on the Penobscot that might be used for wholesale power production, and several wind farms proposed or running nearby that could contribute electricity.

Another generation dam is due to move to Medway within four years as part of plans to build fish bypasses at three Penobscot dams in Howland and farther south.


At a glance

Millinocket will ask La Capra Associates of Boston to provide its Town Council with technical and financial evaluations of the full spectrum of energy supply options, including:

· Incorporation of existing facilities, such as the Katahdin Avenue paper mill, which is temporarily shut down and owned by Brookfield Asset Management of Toronto, into its power generation or supply scheme.

· Creation of new power generation facilities.

· Formation of an electrical cooperative.

· Formation of a nonprofit community supply group.

Source: Town of Millinocket

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