ATHENS – Capitalizing on the popularity of alternative fuels because of rising oil prices and Maine’s desire to establish a home-grown, sustainable form of energy, a new company announced Friday that it will locate a wood pellet manufacturing company in Athens, the first such facility in the state.
Maine Woods Pellet Co. LLC is locally owned and will provide 25 primary jobs and 30 to 40 related jobs once it starts operations next year. Company representatives expect sales to reach $20 million in the first year.
The company is owned by Maine Biomass Fuels LLC of Belmont and Linkletter and Sons Inc. of Athens.
“The Linkletters own and operate a large, well-known and respected wood products and harvesting company,” James Batey of the Somerset Economic Development Corp. said Friday as he revealed the company’s plans to SEDC members, who praised the new venture.
“This project will complement the need for a more diverse use of the vast forest resources in the state of Maine,” Batey said.
George Rybarczyk of MBF said he had been working on the project for a year and had been looking for a partner who could supply all of the required raw materials for the plant. At the same time, the Linkletter family was looking for additional markets for its products. The proposed site in Athens in part of a Pine Tree Zone, which was key to its location. Pine Tree Zones are state-designated areas offering tax incentives to employers.
Rybarczyk said all wood pellets sold in Maine now are being imported. “Bags of pellets in a store say ‘Made in Georgia.’ We will raise some eyebrows because by staying local we will be able to produce pellets at a much lower price than our competitors.”
The plant will be located on the former Gorbell biomass power plant site, which is owned by the Linkletters, and which was contemplated as the site for a biomass incinerator project.
Richard Linkletter said Friday that the controversial incinerator project had been proposed by GenPower LLC, a Massachusetts-based firm. “They had a two-year lease on the property,” Linkletter said. “We chose not to renew the lease.”
That will come as welcome news to some Athens residents and others who have vehemently opposed the $80 million incinerator project. GenPower had planned to burn demolition debris to create electricity. Nearly half of the debris would have been trucked to Maine from out of state.
“All of the money will now stay in the state of Maine. All of the jobs will be in Maine,” Linkletter said. “I can’t think of any reason for anyone to object.”
Linkletter said the process involves nothing but wood – not even any water – and that the furnace that will dry the pellets also will operate on wood waste. He also said traffic should not increase in the area beyond that of the former Gorbell plant.
Pending local and state approval, the plant will dry and densify through compression – not through the addition of any chemicals or glues – sawmill residue, forest thinnings, corn and grasses into pellets that can be used to heat homes, schools and businesses.
“Call me,” Peter Schultz of Dirigo Stitching told the Linkletters and Rybarczyk, when he learned the company would be looking for industrial and municipal sites for pellet furnace prototypes. “I’m burning 16,000 gallons of oil now.”
Dana Hamilton of the Somerset County Sheriff’s Department suggested the company use the proposed jail as a test site.
Rybarczyk explained that the pellets burn at 90 percent efficiency, compared with 70 percent for oil, but that the “biggest advantage is this will all come from Maine.”
Close to 500,000 tons of pellets are consumed annually throughout the Eastern Seaboard, Rybarczyk said. “Over the past two years the demand for the product has doubled and continues to grow.”
Rybarczyk said the facility will require 200,000 tons of raw materials a year and will be able to produce enough pellets to heat 33,000 homes, displacing approximately 13 million gallons of fuel oil.
The partners said they also are seeking local oil dealers that can deliver the fuel and service home burners. They also are looking for farmers to grow switch grass and corn that can be incorporated with wood to create the pellets.