As a key hearing approaches, Great Northern Paper (GNP), and its employees are united in supporting legislation that would allow the mill to sell hydropower a few times per year to the regional power grid. The Joint Standing Committee on Energy, Utilities and Technology is holding a public hearing on L.D. 1792 Wednesday afternoon, March 5, in Augusta.
GNP President Ned Dwyer said approving L.D. 1792 is critical toward restarting the mill by May 1 and becoming a viable operation into the future. “We are not looking for a hand out. We are looking to even the playing field and give this business the same access as other mills to earning revenue from selling power - rather than using it during high price periods. As happens most winters, recent market rates for power are sky high due to the cold weather. We would like to have the benefit of those higher rates.”
The proposed revision to an existing Special Law is about protecting jobs and Maine’s economic health, added GNP Purchasing Manager John Chaisson. “L.D. 1792 is an opportunity preserve paper-making in East Millinocket, in addition to building a new forest products platform through Cate Street Capital’s biocoal production facility, Thermogen Industries, currently in development. We have a plan to maximize synergies between both, allowing each to be viable, and providing a more consistent platform for the forest products industry to remain such a vital part of Maine’s economy.”
Duane Lugdon, representing the United Steelworkers International Union workers at GNP said, “The East Millinocket mill cannot compete against those who have the ability to shed electrical load and sell energy when the Northeast electrical grid sorely needs it to service residential customers. The other mills like Huhtamaki in Waterville, SAPPI in Westbrook, SAPPI in Skowhegan, Madison Paper in Madison, NewPage in Rumford, Old Town Fuel & Fiber in Old Town, Verso in Bucksport, Lincoln Paper & Tissue in Lincoln, all have the ability to enhance their revenue lines in this way. But when the Great Northern mill shuts down, for whatever reason, the energy that is then sold to the grid provides no revenue stream to the mill.”
Rob Farrington, a boiler operator at Great Northern Paper, in addition to being President of the F&O Local 3, Chapter 261, stated, “I was working at the Mill in 2002 when the Special Law in question was implemented. At the time, the Mill and the hydro assets were owned by the same entity and the intent of the law was to be sure the hydro assets always looked out for the paper-mill workers, and to ensure that paper manufacturing was preserved. Today, the Mill is not owned by the same entity as the Hydro, and a law that was put in place to help secure paper-making operations, is now hurting us and jeopardizing our ability to restart.”
John Civiello, a Senior Environmental Engineer and 4th generation GNP employee, added, “I support GNP and Cate Street Capital and their on-going collaborative effort to do what’s right for the Mill and its employees – which is to find a way to make it work, and make it work long term. This piece of legislation is absolutely necessary to give the Mill a fighting chance.”
In conclusion, Dwyer said the State has a long and proud history of supporting mills with natural resources, “Our power source was incorporated by this Legislature in an 1897 Private and Special Law to use the waters of the State of Maine for the sole purpose of supplying papermaking mills with power for the benefit of the people of the State. I do not understand how that power source can now create a financial windfall for some, while our workers and suppliers are out of work due to high costs. L.D. 1792 today will right this situation.”