By Tux Turkel
Maine’s obsolete biomass power plants and its struggling or shuttered paper mills are world-class assets that can become testing grounds for a new manufacturing economy based on sustainably harvested wood, says an international group of energy developers.
Seen through fresh eyes, these industrial relics are the pieces with which entrepreneurs can build bioenergy parks, where all parts of a tree are used to make electricity, fuel, food, material and other things, eventually replacing similar products made from petroleum.
This vision is in the early stages, and it’s too soon to know if organizers can assemble the mix of money, applied technology and business outreach needed to create such a grand transformation. But there are reasons for cautious optimism: Investment in Maine is being sought, and similar projects have gained ground in Europe.
Members of the development group, under the name Stored Solar J&WE, took the first step last fall by buying two idled wood-fired plants in West Enfield and Jonesboro. The plants are back online, restoring jobs for 84 employees and 200 or so loggers and truckers. The restart was made possible through a share of a $13.4 million subsidy that Maine lawmakers approved last year, a lifeline to keep the state’s wood-fed biomass power industry alive for up to two years.