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February 12. 2014 9:54PM

$100M liquefied natural gas plant proposed for closed Groveton mill site

NORTHUMBERLAND — In the second piece of economic good news for the North Country this week, a Bay State company said it intends to build a $100 million liquefied natural gas production facility in Groveton Village on part of the site of the former Wausau paper-mill complex.

It's been six years since Wausau closed its mills, forcing some 300 people out of work. Since then, local, regional and state officials have sought reuses for the mill property.

Under a plan presented Tuesday to residents by Scott Zepp, the lead consultant, and Evan Coleman, the chief operating officer of Clear Energy of Marlborough, Mass., the project known as White Mountain LNG would bring a number of benefits to this community — among them an estimated $1.7 million annually in property taxes.

Theoretically, Coleman said in an interview Wednesday, that revenue could mean taxpayers would see up to a 50 percent reduction in their tax bills, assuming the town did not increase its budget.

The project still requires some state and federal permits, as well as local approval.

Coleman estimated the project would create 84 jobs — half of them for drivers and the rest for "in-house" personnel.

The positions would not require previous experience and would come with a minimum wage of $19 per hour, Coleman said.

The LNG plant would be the largest such plant in the United States that makes LNG for domestic consumption, and it would also include an on-site 8.7 megawatt natural gas power plant that Coleman hoped will act as a catalyst in attracting other businesses to the area.

Coleman said Clear Energy, founded 18 months ago, has been studying the feasibility of an LNG plant in Groveton for more than seven months.

He said the decision to build was ultimately based on the receptivity of the community to the plan; the availability of a skilled workforce; and the presence of a Portland Natural Gas Transmission System pipeline in the former mill property.

White Mountain LNG would site its storage tanks, capable of holding 1.8 million gallons of LNG, in the mill property's former liquefaction lagoons.

The plant would generate 300,000 gallons of LNG a day that would be shipped by truck to customers in lower New England.

Under a best-case scenario, the plant, made up of prefabricated modules assembled in and carted from Arizona, would be operational by spring 2015; the groundbreaking is tentatively set for this April.

Coleman thanked the Northumberland Board of Selectmen for their support as well as Gov. Maggie Hassan, the New Hampshire Department of Economic Development, the Northern Community Investment Corp., in addition to U.S. Sens. Jeanne Shaheen and Kelly Ayotte.

James Weagle, chairman of the Northumberland selectmen, wrote in an email that Tuesday's presentation by Clear Energy was very well-received. He said there was potential for new business opportunities arising from the White Mountain LNG facility, among them service and repair shops for the two dozen or so trucks that would go in and out of there daily.

Clear Energy is excited about coming to Groveton, he said.

"We had a great response from the community," he said, noting that during his presentation Tuesday, there was "not one negative comment or question."

Coleman said that once White Mountain LNG is operating, the ownership will change hands "to a larger entity." Clear Energy "is just a development firm," he said.

The lifespan of the LNG plant is estimated to be between 30 and 50 years, Coleman said. Contracts with customers are typically for 15 years, the same length of time that Clear Energy has committed to making an annual $100,000 charitable contribution to Northumberland.

The announcement of the LNG production plant came several hours after the owners of the Balsams Grand Resort Hotel in Dixville Notch announced it was again on the path to re-opening.

jkozoil@newstote.com


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