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Joyce Endee

$5 million EDA grant sought to create an 'energy park'

April 28, 2010
BEECHER FALLS, Vt. — An energy park could be created in Essex County.

A $5 million application for construction funds to establish an "energy park" near the almost shuttered Ethan Allen sawmill, kilns, and factory complex was submitted last week on behalf of Canaan, Vt., by the Northern Community Investment Corporation (NCIC) to the Economic Development Administration (EDA) of the U. S. Department of Commerce. Beecher Falls is a village within the town of Canaan.

"Essex County is an area that has been dependent on a single wood product industry and was devastated by the Ethan Allen (furniture factory) closure last August, and it needs a different equation," explained NCIC vice president Cathy Conway. "The development of an 'energy park' is at the core of that new equation for the region. To date, we have not realized the potential that the natural gas pipeline (PNGTS) near to the Ethan Allen property offers this remote and very rural area.

"This project developed as a result of the local 'Ethan Allen Response Group' that focused everyone's imagination on the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats of this unique region."

"Since recognizing the opportunity the gas line offers, we gained the support of the community leaders for an energy park and have attracted reasonable interest of potential businesses," Ms. Conway said in an e-mail exchange.

Although NCIC does not have any written commitments in hand, it has found that there is a strong level of interest from a reasonably diverse spectrum of businesses outside of the region's traditional wood-based industries, Ms. Conway said. "The gas line provides clean, abundant and low-cost energy alternatives for both electricity and heat," she noted.

"The proposal is a reasonable, realistic game-changing strategy for this community that so needs diversification," Ms. Conway said. "It is a strategy that is limited to just a few places as the idea needs a large gas line to make it work. Basic calculations indicate that even if the power plant does not provide the free heat to create a local electric and heat source for the park, self- generated electricity from the gas line could allow the businesses to have the lowest cost electricity within a very large area.

"For the right business, this can be an invaluable attraction, she concluded.

The Tillotson Corp., headquartered in Lexington, Mass., owns 300 acres that abuts the Ethan Allen factory, and some discussions have taken place to see if some — or all — of that acreage could be made available for an energy park. The Tillotson Corp. also owns The Balsams in Dixville Notch and working forests in New Hampshire, Vermont, and Quebec.

NCIC president Jon Freeman and Ms. Conway discussed the potential development of this "energy park" at the April 21 Coös County commissioners meeting, held in Lancaster, as part of their overview of NCIC's recent activities.

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