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Gulf States awarded $75K grant

You don’t exactly walk into Gulf State’s paper mill and ask company executives to reveal their secrets of success.

Thus, it’s hard to give an exact explanation of a relatively new “biomass energy system” that will save the paper mill more than $2 million a year at its Demopolis plant.

Gov. Bob Riley, through the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs, released a grant this week that will help pay some of the interest on an $11.4 million fuel recycling system for Gulf States.

Basically, this system will allow Gulf States to recycle bark — or waste wood — and use it as fuel. In the long term, the new fuel source will benefit both the company and the environment.

“It will replace a lot of the coal we use,” said Dan Meissner, corporate communications director for Gulf States. “We think the overall savings could be anywhere from $2 million to $2.5 million a year.”

As described by ADECA, this system — made up of a wood-fired boiler and a turbine generator — burns bark and produces power. The steam produced by the boiler can then be used as energy in pulp dryers, cooking digesters and bleaching systems used to manufacture paperboard.

In awarding a grant that could amount to $75,000 over the next three years, Riley praised the initiative of the company.

“Wise use of our natural resources benefits every Alabama citizen,” the governor said. “This project not only reduces our dependence on foreign oil, it also helps preserve jobs by keeping an Alabama company competitive.”

Meissner said the research and development on this new provision for fuel has been in the works for the past few years.

“We’ve been working on it for a while, but it’s a fairly new concept,” he said. “Basically we’ve converted a unit that would now run coal and replaced the fossil fuel with something that is safer for the environment.”

And in the long term, Meissner said the new system will help the company’s bottom line.

Union vote ends

Final votes on a contract for union employees at Gulf States were scheduled to be taken early this morning.

On Thursday, Jan. 8, members of the Paper, Allied-Industrial, Chemical and Energy Workers International Union rejected the first contract offered by Gulf States management.

On Wednesday, Meissner said he could not comment on the vote until it was complete, though he did indicate it’s still early in the negotiations process.

The current contract for union employees expired in January, and negotiations between PACE and Gulf States officials has continued since the first contract was rejected.

Among other things, the union members and Gulf States officials have differences over employee compensation and retirement benefits.

There has been no indication how union members at the Demopolis plant will vote. Until a new contract is ratified, Gulf States employees continue working under their old contract.