Ashland tour highlights benefits of biomass industry

14 years ago

Ashland tour highlights

benefits of biomass industry

By Kathy McCarty

Staff Writer

ASHLAND — Officials with Mobilize Northern Maine spent much of the day Tuesday touring biomass facilities in the community, meeting with management of the various businesses to get a better understanding of how each benefits the community and the state, as well as their customers.

Bill Greaves, regional ranger, Maine Forest Service, helped organize the tour on behalf of the MNM Biofuels Committee. Greaves said the Forest Service has taken an active role in promoting the use of biofuels — speaking from experience after switching some of their facilities to pellet-burning as opposed to fossil fuel furnaces. This translates to dollars saved and jobs created within the state, he said.

“Three years ago there was a governor’s initiative to promote the use of biofuels in Maine. At that time, the Maine Forest Service installed a pellet boiler in one of our Forest Protection Division facilities which allowed us to purchase our fuel from Northeast Pellets. This created a savings to the taxpayers of approximately $800 per year,” said Greaves.

In addition, Greaves said the department was able to keep “100 percent of our heating dollars in Maine.”

“Since then, the MFS has administered ARRA grant money to six biofuel projects in Aroostook County. Forest rangers have been charged with periodically conducting assessments of these projects as they develop,” he said.

Greaves said forest rangers will also be working closely with these projects to provide networking with others in the forest products industry such as biomass producers and current biomass boiler operators.

He said the growing interest in biomass in Maine will help to not only retain but create jobs in the forest industry.

“Low-quality wood from commercial and pre-commercial harvests will have an additional market. This should create an opportunity for landowners to conduct timber improvements and market material which was previously considered waste,” Greaves said.

Greaves said the MFS and forest rangers do not necessarily have direct oversight of biomass facilities.

“We are not involved with this project to enforce regulations but simply to provide assistance. We do, however, work very closely with large landowners and the forest products industry,” said Greaves. “It’s important to all of us that we contribute to this industry and the taxpayers in any way we can.”

He stressed the importance of groups working together to come up with more economical ways for the state to do business.

“In relation to these biomass projects and working with NMDC, forest rangers have an obligation to reduce state heating costs and an opportunity to help improve the local economy by creating jobs,” said Greaves. “This project is a little outside the box for us, but we are very dedicated to providing the best service possible.”

Matt Bell, owner of Northeast Pellets, said biomass is a vital component of Maine’s forest industry.

“The loss of the biomass market would be catastrophic for everyone from the landowners yielding less for stumpage, thus charging the mills more, to the sawmills having to pay more for roundwood and then not gaining the return back on biomass sales, to the pellet mills having to seek alternative fiber supplies because you would see further sawmill closures,” said Bell, whose facility relies largely on the bi-products produced by other mills to create wood pellets.

Unlike other businesses that find themselves in competition, Bell said people in the wood industry rely on each other for their livelihood.

“We all work together and everyone depends on one other in order to survive, especially in today’s economic hardship,” said Bell. “Plus we’d go back to the days of the huge roadside brush piles in the woods (if not for biomass facilities using leftover wood debris), which is unsightly — not to mention all of the jobs the entire circle encompasses,” said Bell.

Over 30 people had registered for the tour, according to Walt Elish, president and CEO of Aroostook Partnership for Progress and administrator for Leaders Encouraging Aroostook Development.

“We had a lot of interest in the tour — a lot of interest in the biomass industry,” said Elish.

The tour began and concluded at the Maine Forest Service on Radar Road, and included stops at: a chipping operation, visit to the Maine Woods, then a stop at Boralex and Northeast Pellets.

For more information on the event, contact Greaves at 435-7963, ext. 202.