BUCKSPORT, Maine — Officials from Verso Paper Co. and representatives from the state and town dug their shovels into a pile of wood chips Friday during a brief ceremony to mark the start of a $40 million clean energy project at the Bucksport mill.
Although the groundbreaking was ceremonial and the company still needs to complete engineering and permitting work before the Bucksport Renewable Energy Project can begin, Verso President and CEO Mike Jackson said construction on the project would begin before the end of this year.
Jackson stressed that the project is part of a wider energy strategy that will guide Verso’s actions for the next decade.
“We announced a strategy that includes continued focus on our core coated fresh sheet and coated groundwood business, development of specialty areas and a three-part energy strategy,” he said. “This project is the first step in that energy strategy.”
The project, which Verso refers to as BuxREP, will modify the mill’s No. 8 boiler to burn waste wood such as wood chips to create steam to run a new 25-megawatt turbine generator. The modified boiler will eliminate about 90 percent of the fossil fuel now used, including all coal and tire-derived fuel. It will use natural gas only to start up and then will burn renewable, green biomass to create steam.
The steam will power the new turbine, which will create electricity that can be used in the mill or sold to the regional power grid.
“This project represents what Verso stands for when it comes to our position as a green energy company and as a leader in environmental stewardship,” Jackson said. “We will have the ability to generate more green energy from renewable biomass, which reduces our carbon footprint, all while reducing costs.”
According to Mark Daniel, director of energy technology at Verso in Memphis, the project will involve new construction in the wood delivery and storage areas, as well as changes to the existing wood handling system. The No. 8 boiler will remain in place, but it will see modifications and improvements, Daniel said.
“There will be some modifications in the boiler as well, in the air systems and environmental control systems, to make sure we continue to meet our air permits,” he said.
Most of the construction, including the installation of the new turbine, will take place behind the gas turbine building, near where Friday’s ceremony took place.
Jack Cashman, Maine PUC chairman, representing Gov. John Baldacci at the ceremony, praised the project and Verso’s efforts to advance Maine’s pulp and paper industry. In order to be viable, companies need to be innovative and energy-efficient, he said.
“This project is both,” he said. “You are leading the way in terms of innovation and have made the changes to make your industry viable in Maine.”
Cashman read a letter from the governor, in which he praised Verso efforts to transform the industry and said he was glad to be part of the public-private partnership that helped bring about this project that “has the benefits of reducing greenhouse gas emissions and reducing overall energy consumption in Maine.”
Bucksport Town Manager Roger Raymond said Verso’s willingness to invest in this project illustrated the company’s commitment to Maine, to the Bucksport mill and to the community.
“The community is very excited about this project,” Raymond said. “We understand the value of Verso in our community. We understand that the mill has provided quality jobs for the community and the region. We want to do everything in our power to help that continue, and this project will allow it to continue.”
Raymond also praised Bucksport town councilors for their courage in approving a tax increment financing package for the project that will allow the mill to recoup about $10 million of tax revenue over the next 30 years.
“It took a great deal of courage on the part of the councilors to approve that in these very difficult times,” he said.
With construction set to start within the next month, most of the project will be built during 2011. Mill officials have indicated that they expect to begin generating power early in 2012.