LINCOLN, Maine — The startup last month of a new $6 million turbine and condenser system leaves Lincoln Paper and Tissue LLC a nearly self-sufficient electricity generator, capping nearly $10 million in improvements undertaken over the last year, its co-owner said Monday.
Mill co-owner Keith Van Scotter said it was difficult to determine whether the tissue manufacturing plant has recovered from a smelt water explosion in a chemical recovery boiler in November 2013.
The destruction of the boiler forced the layoff ultimately of about 185 millworkers, a Maine Department of Labor spokeswoman said recently.
But the energy efficiency improvements, plus the installation of about $3 million in new pulping equipment and pulp conveyors in August, have Van Scotter and partner John Wissman feeling bullish about the mill’s prospects for continued survival in a very tough manufacturing market, Van Scotter said.
“John and I will have been here 11 years at the end of May. If I had been able to take bets on everybody who thought we would fail, I wouldn’t have to work for a living,” Van Scotter said Monday. “Business is hard, but we have good people, our customers love us, and our suppliers have always been treating us well.
“I feel good about the business. We have invested the money because we believe in it,” Van Scotter added.
The biomass steam turbine will not sell power to the grid, said Van Scotter, who declined to comment on how much money the improvements will save his company.
The company also made some water reduction and fiber recovery improvements to its operations, Van Scotter said.
“We took a difficult situation, and we charted the best path out of it. We focused our efforts to create a long-term sustainable business,” he said.
The explosion eliminated the company’s papermaking and its pulping facilities, forcing the company to purchase pulp off-site. The layoffs represented about half the company’s workforce. A federal petition for retraining funding for the displaced workers filed by LPT revealed that the layoffs also were because of the loss of a major customer that was moving its tissue production to Indonesia.
Efficiency Maine, an independent trust dedicated to promoting the efficient and cost-effective use of energy to save money for Maine residents and businesses, contributed a $1 million incentive to help Lincoln Paper retrofit its older and less efficient pulp refining equipment.
The rest of the nearly $10 million in upgrades came from LPT stockholders, according to Van Scotter, who doesn’t foresee the mill expanding its workforce.
Lincoln Paper and Tissue produces an estimated 200 tons of tissue a day with its three machines. It advertises itself as the largest producer of deep-dyed tissue in the United States. Its tissue products are used by many of the nation’s party goods producers, airlines and food service companies to create napkins, towels, table covers and other specialty products.
It also manufactures specialty tissue stock for health care products such as medical draping, disposable gowns and beauticians neck strips, and for industrial applications including electrical tissue, according to its website, lpt.com.