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.
By A.J. Higgins
The death of Maine’s pulp and paper industry is highly exaggerated. That’s the conclusion of a new preliminary report by Mindy Crandall, an assistant professor of Forest Management and Economics at the University of Maine.
Though eight major biomass power generators and paper companies have disappeared from the map in Maine since the last time the industry conducted an economic analysis of the forest products market six years ago, Crandall told those attending a meeting Thursday evening of the Forest Resources Association in Brewer that forest products are still a vital component of Maine’s overall economy.
More than 290,000 acres of northern Maine forestlands in Aroostook, Penobscot and Piscataquis counties have been sold to Tall Timber Trust, according to forestry consultant Gary Bahlkow.In the private transaction, the price of which has not been disclosed, Canopy Timberlands, LLC, sold two major blocks of forestland to Tall Timber Trust, said Bahlkow, who is overseeing the transition of lands and the forestry and contracting teams for Tall Timber. The deal closed Sept. 30, he said.“They both have been working forest for a long time and continue to be,” Bahlkow said of the two blocks of the land, both comprised of mixed hardwood and softwood forests.Bahlkow declined to share more information on Tall Timber Trust’s ownership or the extent of its land holdings in Maine, saying the company wants to maintain a “low profile” during a “routine timberland investment transaction.” A quit claim deed filed with the Penobscot County Register of Deeds lists D. Ben Benoit as a trustee of Tall Timber Trust, created in Connecticut in 2007.
Members of Maine’s forest products economy are hailing the certification of Norway spruce as construction lumber – the first new species to be added to the list of approved lumber in about 80 years.The pretty evergreen with its gently sloping boughs was named to the list after five months of testing at the University of Maine. Researchers tested more than 1,300 pieces of lumber milled from Norway spruce grown in Maine, Vermont, New York and Wisconsin. On Oct. 20, the American Lumber Standards Committee approved the inclusion of Norway spruce for home construction and industrial applications.