Brushing Up on Biomass

Tour illuminates aspects of biomass boiler projects for Maine agencies exploring or planning to install the boilers.
By Lisa Gibson | January 05, 2011

Northern Maine has about $6 million in Recovery Act funding that will go toward six different biomass boiler installations. In light of the volume of current projects, the Mobilize Northern Maine Biomass Action Team for Wood Supply organized a tour in early December of four biomass-related facilities, to not only direct agencies already committed to installing biomass boilers, but also to inform and educate any that might still be on the fence.

Tour stops included a Seven Islands Land Co. chipping operation near Ashland; Boralex Inc.’s wood-fired Ashland Power Station; a Maine Woods Co. sawmill in Portage Lake; and Northeast Pellets in Ashland. About 35 people took advantage of the free tour opportunity, exceeding organizers’ expectations of 25. “It generated a lot more interest than we expected,” says Bill Greaves, member of the action team and a Forest Protection Division Northern Regional ranger for the Maine Forest Service, which administers the Recovery Act funding. Attendees representing organizations that received project grants included school superintendents, university presidents,hospital managers and even custodians who will be operating the boilers once installed, he says.

“They had a lot of questions about what kind of fuel they need for these boilers,” he recalls. “They were able to talk with engineers who were installing the boilers and designing the boiler systems. And they were able to talk to the fuel providers.” At the Seven Islands stop, participants learned from a forester how the biomass material is harvested, chipped and sold. Another destination, Maine Woods, has a biomass boiler at its sawmill so manager Don Tardie was able to speak to tour attendees about both mill and biomass boiler operations.

The Mobilize Northern Maine Initiative, the action team’s parent group, aims to convert 4,500 households to biomass heat by 2015. The initiative also hopes to see 10 commercial establishments convert, and is well on its way at nine.

The Mobilize Maine Initiative is statewide, but split into six regions and only the northern and eastern groups have begun to roll out their strategies. The program, which was announced by Gov. John Baldacci and supporting agencies in April 2009, is designed to spur community and economic development after a decline over the past decade in traditional manufacturing and commodity-based industries. “The idea is for the six regions in Maine to embrace this initiative and go about implementing Mobilize Maine in each of their regions,” says Walter Elish, president and CEO of the Aroostook (County) Partnership for Progress, the lead agency for Mobilize Northern Maine.