Jackson bill to lower energy costs, support wood-based energy heads to governor

AUGUSTA – The Maine Senate unanimously enacted a bill from Senate President Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, to lower energy costs by embracing Maine’s wood energy industry on Wednesday. LD 597, “An Act To Establish the Wood Energy Investment Program” would provide incentives and low- or no-interest loans to businesses that produce energy using biomass. “This bill is about writing the next chapter of Maine’s logging and forest products industry and lowering energy costs for working Maine families,” said President Jackson. “As the market changes, Maine must adjust to meet new demands. This is a way to support the hardworking men and women who need jobs and who take care of our forests, harvest timber, and have made Maine a leader in the forest products industry.” This legislation responds to recommendations made by the Legislature’s Commission to Study the Economic, Environmental and Energy Benefits of the Maine Biomass Industry 2016, which outlined the need for additional support for research and development projects to strengthen the biomass industry in rural Maine and move existing projects in this phase to the marketplace. It also makes good use of funds set aside through a 2016 law, which allowed the PUC to enter into contracts for biomass electricity generation. When Stored Solar couldn’t fulfill its contract, $5.5 million was left in an account dedicated to supporting jobs and supplying low-cost, green energy. This program would help wood-based energy companies get off the ground in the early phase of their operation. Over the past two decades, there has been a significant shift away from forest product manufacturing in Maine to production around the globe. Five mills have closed since 2014 and others have cut back their operations citing high energy costs as part of the problem. The bill simultaneously addresses high energy costs and provides new economic opportunities for a vital industry.  The proposal has earned the support of ReEnergy and the Professional Logging Contractors of Maine. LD 597 will now go to the governor’s desk. Gov. Mills has ten days to sign it, veto it or allow the measure to become law without her signature. ###

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