Cumberland Times-News

March 28, 2013

Black liquor

Passage of bill would be of help to Luke mill

Cumberland Times-News

— A pro-business piece of legislation that would have a favorable impact in Allegany County appears to have a good chance of passage before the Maryland General Assembly adjourns next month.

Dubbed the black liquor bill, the legislation includes a list of renewable energy sources and makes the Luke paper plant eligible for continued renewable energy certificates.

The subsidy  for use of a byproduct of papermaking called black liquor was set to be eliminated, but the measure now includes a provision to help the plant. The bill has the support of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network, which said it has been working on the bill more than a year.

Tom Carlson, the Maryland campaign director for the network, said the legislation’s impact would be huge. “It’s like taking 250,000 cars off the road,” he said.

The energy certificates targeted by the legislation can be traded and sold. Their value is equal to one megawatt-hour of electricity generated by a renewable energy source. The initial bill would have redefined renewable energy sources to exclude black liquor from eligibility for the certificates.

In the case of the NewPage mill at Luke, the economic savings from the energy credits is significant.  “If the fuel credit is taken away, it will change the economics of fuel use at our mill,” said USW Local 676 President Greg Harvey, who is a recovery boiler operator at the NewPage paper mill at Luke. The mill recently laid off about 44 employees.

The legislation also has the support of the American Forest & Paper Association. “Biomass-based fuel plays a vital role in our country’s renewable energy portfolio by providing low-cost base load energy that complements the use of other renewable fuel sources, enhancing the reliability of renewable energy for Marylanders,” said Jessica McFaul press secretary of the association.

The measure is poised for final approval in the Senate and would then need backing in the House of Delegates. The Luke mill, already besieged by foreign competition and what it considers unfair competition by Chinese paper producers, can use the economic shot-in-the-arm the black liquor bill would provide.