Public Subsidy Sought to Save Maine Biomass Facilities

– March 10, 2016, The Free Press

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Photo: Gabor Degre / Bangor Daily News

A bill is in the works that would give priority to electricity provided from stand-alone biomass plants in Maine. A public hearing should be announced by the end of the week.

The draft bill includes: prioritizing electricity bid contracts based on the number of Maine jobs provided, the amount of taxes paid to municipalities, the amount of money spent on Maine goods and services, and the amount paid for land leases, buying biomass, or other in-state fuel purchases.

The proposal would artifically lower bids by up to 50 percent. The so-called biomass bill was prompted in an effort to save timber-industry jobs. The result is that the price of electricity will likely go up for consumers while carbon-polluting electricity remains unchecked, according to opponents of the bill.

Individual wood biomass plants that use wood chips, sawdust, and other woody material to make steam that generates electricity are the latest sector to be affected by changes in the global economy.

The combination of reduced global petroleum prices (which is largely a result of increased natural gas extraction in the U.S.) and increased regional restrictions on carbon emissions that contribute to climate change, has led to a major slump in Maine’s biomass business that is ricochetting through the Maine logging and timber industry. Many lumber mills, for instance, sell their waste wood to biomass mills. Logging contractors sell chipped branches and debris.

Opponents argue the bill favors biomass plants with high carbon emissions over cleaner, more climate-friendly energy sources like wind, solar, and geothermal.

The new pollution regulations were not a surprise. Maine biomass plants had a four-year warning that carbon emission regulations would get stricter. In 2012, Massachusetts passed tighter regulations on carbon emissions from biomass plants that went into effect in 2015. They gave Maine biomass plants an extra year to meet the emissions standards or lose their Renewable Energy Credits (REU) subsidy.

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