CONCORD, N.H. -- A proposal to convert part of a shuttered North Country paper mill into a transfer station for natural gas could create more than 80 jobs and cut the town of Groveton's tax bills in half.
Clear Energy of Marlboro, Mass., an energy development company, made a pitch to the town last month to use 8 acres on the former Wausau paper plant to convert natural gas into liquefied natural gas that would then be trucked to consumers in southern New England. If approved, the project could bring $1.7 million a year in taxes and double the current tax base in the rural town north of White Mountain National Forest.
"It's huge," said Benoit Lamontagne, the North Country regional specialist for the state's Division of Resources and Economic Development. "Eighty-four jobs is huge. Two jobs are great up here. We knock ourselves out to make these kinds of job opportunities happen."
The plant would use gas supplied by the Portland Natural Gas Transmission System pipeline, which has a meter in Groveton, and each day would produce up to 300,000 gallons of liquefied natural gas, a cleaner-burning and relatively safe fuel. From there, tanker trucks would haul the gas to industrial users in Connecticut, Massachusetts and Rhode Island.
A spokeswoman for the Portland Natural Gas Transmission System confirmed the supplier is working with Clear Energy.
"Clear Energy is one of several interested parties we are working with to increase capacity on the PNGTS pipeline system to bring additional, diverse natural gas supply options to the underserved markets in New England and Atlantic Canada," Gretchen Dewailly Krueger said.
Evan Coleman, a spokesman for Clear Energy, did not return calls seeking comment this week. He has told local officials that 40 jobs would be created at the plant while 44 others would come from an increase in truckers hauling the liquefied natural gas.
The natural gas power plant would supply the energy needs of the facility and be able to sell fuel to the regional power grid during heavy demand periods. The facility would include three truck loading terminals and 1.8 million gallons of storage.
Clear Energy was formed about a year and a half ago and has been looking for a site to construct such a facility. It's already marketing itself, promising on its website to get gas flowing to a business site in as few as 90 days.
Coleman told local officials his company will design and permit the facility and then hand it over to a larger entity. He hopes to have it up and running by next year.
Approvals in the economically stressed town shouldn't be a problem. Wausau once had about 700 employees, but the final 300 disappeared in 2007 when the plant closed. That came right after the nearby Ethan Allen plant closed its doors, taking 800 jobs with it.
"The town has pretty much wrapped its arms around it," said Jim Tierney, a selectman in the town.
"What it comes down to is this is a $100 million plant that's going to be built," Tierney said, noting that a recent revaluation put the town's tax base at $111 million. "A facility coming in and it's almost going to double the grand list, which would close to cut peoples' taxes in half."
The paper plant, by comparison, was once valued at $23 million but was down to $3.5 million at the last assessment, Tierney said.
The state has some incentive programs to help lure the plant. Lamontagne said the company is eligible for a $750 tax credit a year for five years for every job that pays more than 1.5 times the minimum wage. The lowest paid employees are expected to earn $19 an hour, more than double the current minimum wage.