Gov. Paul LePage on Monday signed a bill into law that was drafted to help reopen the shuttered Great Northern Paper mill in East Millinocket.

Although greatly watered down from its original version, the measure encourages an agreement between the mill owner and its power providers on sharing revenue from the sale of excess power generated by dams on the Penobscot River.

The original language of the bill, introduced in February by Rep. Stephen Stanley, D-Medway, generated controversy because it would have forced Brookfield Renewable Energy Partners, the mill’s power provider and Maine’s largest producer of hydroelectric power, to pay Great Northern Paper the profits from selling excess power since the mill’s closure in January. Cate Street Capital, the New Hampshire-based private equity firm that owns Great Northern Paper, said it needs a share of those profits to reopen and remain viable for the long term.

Amid concerns that such a bill would be unconstitutional, the Legislature’s Energy, Utilities and Technology Committee amended it in late March before sending it to the full Legislature, which overwhelmingly approved it last week.

The bill signed by LePage includes no language to force Brookfield to share its profits. It merely encourages the two companies to reach a profit-sharing agreement. The new law also provides a one-time exemption to an existing law that otherwise would prohibit the paper mill from benefiting from the sale of electricity if the mill is shut down.

Adrienne Bennett, LePage’s press secretary, did not respond to a request for comment Tuesday afternoon.

“This is good news,” Scott Tranchemontagne, a spokesman for Cate Street Capital, told the Portland Press Herald on Tuesday. “The Legislature has voted unanimously to pass the law, now the governor has signed it. To us, it’s loud and clear they want a new agreement between Great Northern Paper and Brookfield.”

Harold Pachios, a partner at PretiFlaherty and Brookfield’s attorney, said the new law doesn’t change his client’s position in ongoing discussions with Great Northern Paper over a revenue-sharing agreement. Any deal would still be contingent on several things, including Cate Street providing financial information to Brookfield to ensure its viability. Cate Street has not provided that information to date, Pachios said.

He refused to call what’s going on between Brookfield and Cate Street a “negotiation,” which involves two parties coming to a mutually beneficial agreement.

“This is not a negotiation,” he said. “I think the governor and the Legislature strongly favor, I guess, forcing Brookfield to give money to Great Northern Paper. They want the paper mill to be subsidized, but they want to get a private party to do it. They’re not inclined to get the government to subsidize it, so they want to put pressure on a private company to subsidize it.”

Great Northern Paper signed a 10-year agreement with Brookfield in August 2011 to buy power for the mill at a discount rate.

Despite its reduced power costs, the owner shut down the mill Jan. 23, citing burdensome costs for energy and wood. In early February, it laid off 212 mill employees.

Whit Richardson can be contacted at 791-6463 or:

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Twitter: @whit_richardson