Sunday, May 04, 2008

Pellets from nearby for schools

Kennebec Journal

April 15, 2008

Valarie Tucker

STRONG -- The Geneva Energy Maine wood pellet mill owners and SAD 58 representatives began discussions on plans to convert their school system to wood boilers.
SAD 58 Facilities Supervisor Dan Worcester and School Board Chairman Mike Pond met with mill owners Ben Rose and Jonathan Kahn on Friday. At last week's school board meeting, Worcester received support to begin the process, starting with the heating system at Mt. Abram High School.

"We made great progress, and we look forward to working with them," Worcester said. "We've looked at other pellet suppliers, but we'd rather do business with a company in our back yard."

District superintendent Quenten Clark decided that western Maine was the equivalent "of Saudi Arabia, but with wood instead of oil."

Schools and municipalities need to find ways to finance the change to wood pellet boilers, and the SAD 58 school district has applied for a grant that might let it convert all the schools at once.

The mill's owners are already fielding calls about the availability of the pellets, but the long harsh winter, Kahn explained, means they must compete for a limited and more expensive supply of wood they will need to stockpile.

"We have over $7 million of planned investments necessary to retrofit the mill to produce wood pellets for both the retail and wholesale markets," Kahn said by phone on Sunday. "We have all of our DEP permits and equipment contracts in place that should allow us to be producing pellets by late fall."

The former Forsters Manufacturing toothpick mill closed in 2003. Jeff and Lucinda Allen bought the mill and kept the electricity generating plant operating. After several prospective deals and partnerships dissolved, they sold the building and property to Geneva Energy Maine LLC in January 2008. The Illinois-based principals have retained Jeff Allen as the power plant supervisor and have begun meeting with wood suppliers.

Kahn said they are exploring the option to generate electricity for the mill and the pellet manufacturing process, but they may decide it makes more sense to buy electricity than to produce their own.

"It will depend on the electricity pricing we can negotiate with suppliers," Kahn said.

The company expects to hire several more employees after they have secured wood supplies and installed pellet processing equipment.

"We will work with the Wilton Career Center when we're able to start a full-time operation to produce the pellets," Kahn said. "We're committed to this project. We've had lots of meetings and had tremendous feedback and support from everyone in Franklin County and at the state level."

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