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Ashland leaders still see potential for biomass

ASHLAND, Maine — Despite ReEnergy’s plans to close Aroostook County’s last biomass plant this April, economic development leaders in the Ashland area are hopeful that a biomass plant could be a part of the region’s future.

“It’s a devastating blow,” said Don Tardie, chairman of the Ashland Area Economic Development Committee, of ReEnergy’s plans to shut down the 39 megawatt biomass plant.

“It basically upsets the whole integration we had in our working forests for northern Maine,” Tardie said.

Biomass plants generate electricity using wood chips, sawdust and residues from logging operations and mills, providing an outlet and income for major forestry companies. The decision to close the Ashland plant comes after the company’s Fort Fairfield plant shut down in November. ReEnergy also operates Maine biomass plants in Livermore Falls and Stratton.

Tardie said that the closure of the Ashland facility will be “permeating through the whole industrial base of northern Maine,” even affecting farmers who spread the biomass wood ash on fields as an inexpensive alternative for lime.

The ReEnergy plant is located in Ashland’s Machias River Industrial Park, along with Northeast Pellets and Katahdin Forest Products. The Katahdin Forest Products mill may be particularly impacted, as the biomass plant has been a ready buyer of sawdust and bark, Tardie said.

While the biomass plant has faced major challenges in the decline of renewable energy credits and additional costs to send power to the New England grid, Tardie said that biomass plants should not be written off entirely.

“Northern Maine’s plants have a future if we could convert them to combined heat and power,” Tardie said. “In my personal opinion, standalone biomass plants will not survive unless they’re converted to combined heat and power systems.”

ReEnergy has been in the midst of seeking out new businesses to partner with their existing biomass plants to buy lower-cost electricity as well as heat and steam. Tardie said the Ashland Area Economic Development Committee also is at work on finding co-location partners.

“The economic development committee is working on a project to help find someone to co-locate at the industrial park. The fact that it is shut down is not stopping our initiative,” Tardie said.

“I don’t think the plant is going to be permanently shut down. It might open up under a different mode of operations. It’s certainly an asset we’d like to further explore.”

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