Helping Maine’s Mills to Diversify

By Ramona du Houx - July 2nd, 2009 · 

Gov. John Baldacci signs Rep. Butterfield's bill into law
Gov. John Baldacci signs Rep. Butterfield's bill into law. Photo by Ramona du Houx

LD 389, “An Act to Facilitate the State’s Existing Commitment to the Production of Liquid Biofuels,” sponsored by Rep. Steven Butterfield, was signed into law in May.

“The bill reactivates and reinvigorates the Clean Fuel Vehicle Fund, gives it a new home, and expands its mission,” said Butterfield. “The fund was originally set up to subsidize the purchase of clean vehicles through loans and grants. Now the mission is broadened so the fund will help with biofuel research and development, and production methods. It will also promote the availability of the fund itself so people know they can contribute directly to help biofuel production.”

“We are proud of the role Maine has taken in pursuing clean, renewable energy,” said Governor Baldacci. “We have been working to build strong public-private partnerships to expand home-grown energy, including biofuels.”

The Old Town Fuel and Fiber mill, formally Red Shield, is leading the way in the state for pulp and paper mills to produce biofuels in a “near-neutral” extraction process that was pioneered with UMaine scientists. The Old Town mill is viewed as a model for others around the state. Butterfield’s bill is a step towards the goal of helping all mills diversify their operations.

“I see it as a way to help the mills around the state, which are the life line to the economy to Northern and Western Maine. This is a way to diversify them,” said Butterfield. “Cellulosic ethanol, commercial chemicals and even vinegar – acetic acid – can be extracted from the wood as part of the pulp and paper operation. The ethanol that is now in our gas comes from corn, which is horrible. Corn is labor intensive and needs fertilizers. A few years back when there was a rush to produce corn ethanol it had a negative ripple effect with beef, chicken and other food prices increasing. Using wood waste to produce ethanol makes more sense. It¹s far more cost effective.”

“This voluntary fund sends a strong message. It¹s important. The people of Maine are committed to never again be overly dependent upon foreign sources of energy. This is another step in the way to seeing we as a country become more energy independent,” said Baldacci. “Maine is the Saudi Arabia of wood. Using this resource in a sustainable way, is helping to grow our economy.”

Butterfield envisions electric or hydrogen based vehicles as the future modes of transport.

“We will need a bridge fuel until that time comes, which may be fifty or a hundred years down the road. The one thing oil has taught us is that you can’t rely on one energy source,” said Butterfield. “Cellulosic ethanol has great potential.”

The bill was Rep. Butterfield¹s first, as he was recently elected to the House last November.

Butterfield sponsored a related bill, LD 589, but was unable to secure funding this year. That bill increased an existing tax credit for the production of liquid biofuels from $0.05 per gallon to $0.15 per gallon, and would have introduced a new tax credit equal to 25% of the cost of upgrading an existing mill to produce biofuels as Old Town Fuel and Fiber will.

“The next step is to make it more cost effective and more cost attractive to move in the direction of the mill in Old Town. This is critically important because the capitol upgrade per mill to extract the cellulosic ethanol costs anywhere from $50 to $450
million,” said Butterfield. “Old Town was able to do it right away because they had extra equipment available. Other mills don’t have that luxury.”

Butterfield plans to reintroduce the same basic bill in a future legislative session.

“We couldn’t fund it this year. That’s ok,” Butterfield said. “Everybody like the idea, and that’s the real battle. We’ll figure out a way to make it happen.”

Butterfield sits on the Labor Committee and represents House District 16, which covers a portion of Bangor. He is returning to the University of Maine this fall as a student in the International Affairs program.