April/May 2007

by Ramona du Houx

Corinth Wood Pellets is poised to become the largest pellet manufacturing plant in North America. Once production starts, Ken Eldridge said, 140,000 tons of wood pellets will be sold annually.

After sixteen months of preparation, Eldridge was clearly excited during the opening ceremony of his business last March.

“We are about to become the largest wood pellet manufacturer in the United States,” he said. “By the end of the year we will have completed our second phase, which will bring production up to over 300,000 tons of pellets a year — a year!”

It all started when Eldridge went to pick up a few supplies at the local hardware store and there was a wood pellet stove producing heat. “It was such an even, safe heat, the owner put papers on the stove, and they weren’t damaged,” said Eldridge. “After that I came home, did my homework, and here we are.”

Pellet-burning appliances are often compared to oil and electric heaters for ease of use. They require less frequent refueling, can be vented through a small hole to the outdoors, and produce virtually no smoke. They are safe and stay relatively cool to the touch, since the stove exteriors are not used to radiate heat. Bags of pellets are more easily and compactly stored than wood and are easy to load. The low moisture content of pellets results in high efficiency and few unwanted emissions.

Pellets are manufactured from wood products that normally go to waste: ‘trash’ wood, such as roadside saplings culled by road crews; limbs, tops, and other residue of logging; sawdust and woodchip byproducts of lumber mills and wood manufacture; and cardboard and other wood fiber, such as paper packaging that normally goes to clog landfills. The raw material is ground, dried, and compressed—through the same kind of equipment used to form livestock feed—into pencil-eraser-sized biscuits of uniform size, dryness, and energy content.

“Wood pellets are such a natural product for Maine,” said Jack Cashman, the governor’s economic advisor. “In Europe there is a huge, growing market for them as an environmentally friendly, economical alternative to oil. This is the first of three companies in Maine that are starting wood pellet production. Other plants will be in Houlton and Old Town.”

Eldridge has invested $4.5 million in the project and will employ thirty to forty people; approximately 100 jobs will be created for loggers, truck drivers and other related jobs. Some of the workers were formally employed by Moosehead Manufacturing in Dover-Foxcroft, the GP mill in Old Town, and Corinth Products.

“Our economy is in transition. Corinth Wood Pellets is a company that is helping the state move forward in the global economy. And they are doing it in a way that everyone in the community is involved. I’m proud that they will become the largest wood pellet manufacturer in North America and that they are setting a standard. They are showing the world the Maine way of getting things done. Corinth Wood Pellets is a wonderful example that Maine is open for business,” said Governor Baldacci. “We’re playing off our strengths, using our forests for a renewable energy source and in quality wood products. Maine is going to be the Saudi Arabia of the forest lands.”

Corinth Wood Pellets anticipates that about 70 percent of the pellets will be shipped to European markets.

“Working with the right agencies, we will ensure we ship with Maine companies using Maine ports,” said Paul Faxon, the company’s operations manager. “Everyone at the Department of Economic and Community Development has been working with us to help make this a success. Local businesses and the town really came together to help. This has really been a community effort; it’s the Maine way of getting things done.”

The governor’s Pine Tree Zone initiative, which offers tax breaks to businesses, was credited by company officials with making the endeavor possible.

Corinth residents unanimously voted recently to support the company in obtaining a $400,000 community development block grant to build an additional sawdust storage building.

“We’re going to do all we can to help facilitate the grant process,” said John Richardson, commissioner of the Department of Economic and Community Development. “The community spirit and their hard work made all this happen. It’s Maine at its best.”