What do you do with a 100-year old paper mill no wants, but which got a new $100 million boiler in 1993? Convert it into it into a 60-66 megawatt biomass energy plant, of course.
That’s what Laidlaw Berlin BioPower, LLC, is planning to do with a former Fraser Paper Company mill in Berlin, N.H. The plant will be fueled annually by an anticipated 700,000 tons of wood chips from trees considered unfit for lumber of paper making.
I have some distinct memories of the area, hence my interest in the proposed biomass plant and the paper company before it. As a child, my father, brother and I toured the 121-acre complex when it was the Brown Paper Company making its NIBROC lines of paper towels and tissue. My mind’s eye still sees huge steel vat of lumpy brown pulp swirling its way toward paper making machines. Outside, Boston & Maine R.R. and Grand Trunk R.R. switchers everyday shuffled around dozens of box cars with finished product and pulp cars bearing the feedstock.
I have not so fond memories of the pungent rotten egg smell from the Androscoggin River, which help power the mill and acted as its toilet. We fished the Androscoggin, but only above the mill.
The company dominated the economy of Berlin and the northern woods of New Hampshire for a century. Sadly, the mill shut several years ago, eliminating what totaled 1,000 jobs at one time. Now Laidlaw Berlin BioPower, LLC, wants to salvage the boiler and start a generating plant that would create 40 jobs directly and put some loggers and truckers back to work.
The Babcock & Wilcox boiler promises 600,000 pounds of steam per hour after a bubbling fluidized bed is installed to make it a state of the art biomass unit, according to a Laidlaw Berlin Biomass press release. That technology uses air jets to suspend and tumble the biomass for more efficient heat transfer and a cleaner burn (akin to a common practice from the days of coal-fired steam locomotives). Besides projecting consumption of $25 million worth of biomass a year, the boiler could also conceivably burn storm debris ship in by rail from the southern U.S. Laidlaw Berlin promises the plant will be one of the most “environmentally-advanced” biomass energy plants in the country.
However, the project is far from completion as Laidlaw Berlin Biomass is just beginning the permitting process. But it says has agreed to purchase the boiler from North American Dismantling Corp. (NADC), which bought the mill from Fraser in 2006 and has since demolished much of it. Check out the video of a news story covering the demolition.
A Laidlaw Berlin press release from September said the closing with NADC is tentatively set for next Wednesday, Oct. 22. A May 12 press release announcing the purchase agreement said the deal called for the closing within 90 days or less. In late September, Laidlaw Berlin also said it sealed a 20-year pact to sell all its power to Public Service Company of New Hampshire, a utility claiming 490,000 residential and business customers.
I tried to get more details on the project and a more specific timeline from Laidlaw Berlin, but so far I’ve had no luck in getting to calls back from CEO Michael Bartoszek. Interestingly, some Berlin merchants in a New York Times story a year ago said the biomass plant is too close to downtown and symbolic of same “backward thinking” of the mill which polluted and stunk up a wide area. Berlin, the story said, is counting on a new prison and tourism in the form a large ATV park to provide new jobs.