BDN: Log cutting marks start of ‘something really big’ at Madison insulation mill


MADISON, Maine — Instead of a ribbon, some of Maine’s top politicians and the White House climate adviser celebrated the cutting of a log on Friday to enshrine a pioneering wood fiber insulation mill.

After years of pandemic-related hurdles to acquire more than $125 million in public and private financing, TimberHP is now the first company in North America to produce wood fiber insulation. It is already employing 70 people on the site of a paper mill whose closure devastated the Somerset County town of Madison in 2016.

White House Climate Advisor Ali Zaidi joined Gov. Janet Mills, U.S. Rep. Jared Golden, a Democrat from Maine’s 2nd District, U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, a Republican, at the grand opening and led another event earlier Friday at Kennebec Valley Community College in Fairfield to mark Maine surpassing a heat pump goal and announcing a new one.

TimberHP founders Joshua Henry and Matthew O’Malia bought the shuttered Madison paper mill property in the Central Maine town for $1.4 million in 2019. Their mill uses softwood chips to make insulation for homes and other buildings that is renewable, recyclable and nontoxic.

Wood fiber insulation has been more popular in Europe, leaving room for TimberHP to take a leading role in the North American market. Henry, a materials chemist, and O’Malia, an architect, said Madison-based TimberHP plans to grow to 140 employees by 2026 and consume 180,000 tons of softwood chips annually.

Zaidi acknowledged the heated political debate around “green jobs” and climate change, but he said the Madison mill shows clean energy projects benefit communities of all types.

“It’s not just a greener product,” Zaidi said of the insulation. “It’s just a better product.”

TimberHP is a spinoff of Belfast-based building products manufacturer GO Lab, which picked Pittsfield-based construction company Cianbro Corp. to rehabilitate the mill that Cianbro originally built and Madison Paper Industries operated from 1980 until it closed in 2016 due to a decline in demand for the paper used in magazines, coupons, inserts and directories.

Friday’s ribbon cutting was a key economic development moment for Madison, the Somerset County town of about 4,700 people that suffered from numerous mill closures or relocations during the 20th century.

After the pandemic hampered start-up plans in 2020, TimberHP was also to find an array of local, state, federal and private sources to help finance its purchase and redevelopment of the defunct paper mill, along with its sourcing of German-made manufacturing equipment.

Zaidi said TimberHP’s development in Madison aligns with President Joe Biden’s climate goals of spurring investment in environmentally-friendly building materials. The Mills administration’s current climate plan also calls for Maine’s power grid to feature 80 percent renewable energy by 2030 and 100 percent by 2050.

But Friday’s log-cutting ceremony was as much about Madison as it was the sector. Collins noted the return of manufacturing in a growing industry, while Henry stated a goal of reclaiming the spirit of the town with the first Maine mill “built from scratch” to open in more than 40 years.

“I think we’re giving birth to something really big,” Mills said.

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