Officials from the state and Kimberly-Clark gathered July 29 to mark completion of the corporation's energy independence project at the paper manufacturer's New Milford mill.

The project was the development, construction and implementation of a combined heat and power unit behind the mill.

The unit has allowed Kimberly-Clark to stabilize its energy costs and improve its manufacturing competitiveness, while improving New Milford air quality by reducing emissions from greenhouse gases and particulates.

"I have never felt so proud in my work as a legislator," said state Sen. John Fonfara, D-Hartford, co-chairman of the General Assembly's Energy and Technology Committee.

"I was here at the groundbreaking (of the combined heat and power unit) and met 20 employees of this mill," said Sen. Fonfara, who wrote the 2005 Connecticut Energy Independence Act, which made the Kimberly-Clark project possible.

"They didn't know politics. They didn't know energy efficiency," he added. "They knew this project had saved their jobs. I never felt so proud as I did that day and today."

The $57 million project was funded in part by an Energy Independence Act grant that paid one-third of the cost. The combined heat and power unit has been operating for 18 months.

It allows the mill to generate its own heat and electricity and sell 20 megawatts of electricity to the local grid, reducing local demand on the grid, which affects area electric costs.

"We've been able to take this new technology and drive down the cost of production," said Dan Lachmann, Kimberly-Clark's New Milford mill manager. "It's made us more competitive as a company and allowed us to solidify the company's presence here in New Milford."

The project gave more than 100 employees temporary work during the two-year construction process and created 15 permanent turbine operator jobs at the mill, Mr. Lachmann reported.

It also played a large role in keeping the mill open in New Milford by increasing its cost-efficiency, securing 350 local jobs.

Chuck Smith, Kimberly-Clark engineering manager, oversaw the project from its inception in 2005, working with legislators and the state Department of Public Utility Control.

"The grant through the Energy Independence Act made this co-generation unit possible," Mr. Smith said. "New Milford is now the most cost-competitive of all Kimberly-Clark's tissue manufacturing mills in the United States."

State Sen. Andrew Roraback, R-Goshen, lauded Sen. Fonfara for "championing" the project and Kimberly-Clark officials for having the vision to move forward with it.

"What this means is that Kimberly-Clark's long-term presence in the community is secured," Sen. Roraback said. "The 350 workers are ensured their jobs, and the taxpayers of New Milford know the plant will continue contributing to the tax base and supporting community projects."