Measure provides safety net for vulnerable industries and accountability
The Energy, Utilities and Technology Committee on April 7, 2016 advanced a proposal to prevent the loss of over 1,000 jobs in Maine’s biomass industry while also protecting ratepayers from an increase in their electric bill.
“This is first and foremost a jobs bill. Maine cannot afford to keep losing good-paying jobs,” said House Majority Leader Jeff McCabe, D-Skowhegan. “We’re stepping up with a solution that offers a temporary, accountable safety net for our vulnerable biomass industries and the loggers who depend on them without making Mainers foot the bill. We no longer have to make the choice between sending a thousand Mainers home without a paycheck or increasing electric bills for Mainers just trying to get by.”
LD 1676, An Act To Establish a Process for Procurement of Renewable Resources, as amended by Rep. Mark Dion, D-Portland, is advancing to the full Legislature with a bipartisan vote of 9-3.
The proposal would fund two-year, 80 megawatt contracts to biomass facilities at an annual cost of no greater than $6.7 million to the Rainy Day Fund. While many on the committee agreed that action was necessary, the funding source for the contracts remained a point of contention. A minority report supported by Republicans seeks to fund the contracts by increasing monthly electric bills for ratepayers, including small businesses and residential customers.
“We have had five mills close in the last three years and these biomass plants are on the verge of shutting their doors. This is a rainy day in the state of Maine and a rainy day for the forest products industry,” said Dion, House chair of the committee. “It’s time for the Legislature to show leadership by providing relief to our communities, protecting consumers and businesses and saving jobs. This proposal does just that.”
The new proposal defines biomass generators who produce Maine fibers as the only beneficiaries and further specifies core provisions to establish accountability, including performance measures and an annual review of economic effectiveness.
It also includes commonsense protections to ensure that any facility bidding for contracts are operational for at least six months before the contract is awarded. This was a provision proposed during a work session by Rep. Nathan Wadsworth, R-Hiram.
According to Professional Logging Contractors of Maine, the biomass industry directly supports nearly 150 jobs and an estimated additional 900 jobs indirectly. It accounts for a quarter of the power supply in Maine.
The bill faces actions in the House and Senate.