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Maine's Plant Closures Stifling the Market for Biomass

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According to a report published this past week by the Ellsworth American, Ellsworth, Me. USA, forest worker Duane Jordan had a pile of pre-biomass — a tangle of branches, leaves, tree tops, and other "junk wood" not suitable to be sold as logs — that no longer have a home.

The closing of biomass plants in Bucksport, Old Town, Jonesboro, and Enfield have taken away one-third of his logging business. The biomass plant that once fueled the now shuttered Verso Paper Mill in Bucksport recently declared bankruptcy.
 
Expera Specialty Solutions in Old Town — the former Old Town Fuel & Fiber — announced at the end of September that it was closing the pulp mill. The plant had a biomass boiler.

"Bucksport and Old Town were our mainstay," Jordan said. The remainder of his sales are in roundwood, which is a combination of soft and hard wood.

Covanta Holding Corp. of Morristown, N.J., said last week it would close the West Enfield Power Station and its Jonesboro plant in March. The plants generate electricity by burning wood waste in boilers. The power is then sold to the New England region’s bulk power system, ISO New England.

Covanta officials said the low cost of fuel oil and the warmer weather have contributed to the plant closures.

"We always had Enfield and Jonesboro as extra outlets at times," Jordan said. "Because of Bucksport and Old Town being down we’re dead in the water right now."

Although the Verso plant closed in 2014, the power plant continued to operate and create electricity.

"Last winter it was cold, the price of fuel was high, so we hauled fiber to them all winter," Jordan said. "April 1 the energy prices started to collapse and when rates got to a certain point the new owner decided if they couldn’t make money selling electricity they wouldn’t run at all."

"Since April 1, I have not hauled any fiber to the Bucksport facility," he said.

When the demand for biomass is down, Jordan said, he has his workers focus on harvesting roundwood, but the supply quickly builds up.

"The winter rush will be over before it even started," he said of the premature supply building. "People have only so much room for roundwood."

Jordan said he is managing to keep his two dozen or so employees busy at the moment, but might be forced to idle some workers later this year. Dana Doran, executive director of the Professional Logging Contractors of Maine, January 7 urged the LePage administration and legislative leaders to take action to sustain Maine biomass electricity production.

"This is very devastating news at this point," Doran said. "It’s a troublesome time for logging contractors."

He said the West Enfield and Jonesboro plants closed due to the low cost of natural gas and electricity and the loss of the renewable energy credit market in Massachusetts. Among Doran’s suggestions to help the biomass market are expanding the renewable energy credits market and provide opportunities for biomass facilities to provide heat for businesses that could use it.

An Eastport company, Phyto-Charter Inc., is hoping to offer one answer for biomass producers. Managing Director Stephean Chute said his company will buy waste wood for export to Europe, where it will be used for heating and generating electricity. The company has a patented system for heating the wood chips on board vessels to kill off pathogens and pests to meet import restriction imposed by the European Union.
 

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