HALLOWELL — Acres of peppers could be growing in greenhouses adjacent to the Stored Solar biomass power plant in West Enfield next year if an agreement between the plant’s owners and one of the largest greenhouse pepper growers in North America comes to fruition.

The greenhouses would use electricity, as well as heat and carbon dioxide emitted from the plant, to grow the crop and provide Stored Solar with a new source of revenue that would make the generator profitable.

The venture would be an example of how Maine’s forest industry is working to diversify and find new uses for obsolete, wood-fired power plants and closed paper mills.

A letter of intent has been signed with the grower to erect up to 60 acres of greenhouses, according to William Harrington, Stored Solar’s director. Harrington also provided a few details about the company’s plans for a potential shrimp farm, possibly at a second biomass power plant in Jonesboro, and a biorefinery that would make diesel fuel, at a now-closed paper mill in East Millinocket.

Harrington made his comments during a presentation at a conference called The New Forest Economy – Biobased Power, Products and Fuels. Co-hosted by E2Tech and GrowSmart Maine, it brought together industry experts and policymakers to examine the challenges and opportunities in transforming a struggling industry essential to the well-being of rural Maine.

NATURE FRESH FARMS

After his presentation, Harrington confirmed to the Portland Press Herald that the greenhouse company is Nature Fresh Farms of Leamington, Ontario.

Nature Fresh is one of Canada’s largest independent greenhouse produce growers. The company has been building a massive greenhouse complex for growing tomatoes in Delta, Ohio, next to a steel factory that produces excess heat and carbon dioxide. The first 15-acre phase was built in 2015.

Chris Veillon, marketing director for Nature Fresh, confirmed Friday that the company has been in discussions to build greenhouse facilities in Maine, but declined to provide details.

Harrington said West Enfield is a good location for a greenhouse because it’s less than a day’s drive from supermarkets in Boston and New York. In Madison, the Backyard Farms hydroponic tomato greenhouse has been supplying grocers in the region for 10 years. It covers 42 acres and has roughly 175 workers.

But to achieve its vision of sustainability and job creation, Stored Solar is going to have to work through some short-term problems.

Loggers who supply the biomass plants stopped delivering wood chips this month because they weren’t getting paid on time. Harrington declined to discuss that issue, which currently is under review by the Maine Public Utilities Commission. But Dana Doran, executive director of the Professional Logging Contractors of Maine, said Friday it was his understanding that Stored Solar and the affected loggers were meeting and trying to resolve the matter.

“Hopefully the discussions are positive,” he said. “We would like to see (Stored Solar) be successful.”

Along with another biomass power producer, Stored Solar is sharing a $13 million state subsidy meant to prop up the sector while it finds ways to make the plants profitable. The money is expected to last up to two years. During a question period after his presentation, Harrington said his company intends to do that by finding partners who can use the heat created from generating electricity.

Aside from the greenhouse operations, Harrington also said Stored Solar is talking to a shrimp farm venture.

In his presentation, Harrington referenced tentative plans for an experienced shrimp farmer who could produce 10,000 pounds a year in tanks located in covered buildings, using the power plant heat.

He also said he has been meeting with officials in East Millinocket about plans to turn the closed paper mill there into a biorefinery capable of producing 33 million gallons a year of biodiesel. The Penobscot Biorefinery Project, as it’s known, would come on line by 2020. The project, however, would hinge on federal loan subsidies and gaining title to the mill property. The company is in the midst of a court dispute with the current owner, North American Recovery Management.

Tux Turkel can be contacted at 791-6462 or

[email protected]

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