AUGUSTA — Legislation from Senate President Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, to support Maine’s emerging wood-based energy industry, received public hearings before the Legislature’s Energy, Utilities and Technology Committee on Wednesday.
“Maine’s forest products industry has been an important part of our rural economy for generations. As we work to confront the high cost of energy and reduce our reliance on heating oil, it only makes sense to invest in the often overlooked renewable energy source in our own backyard,” said President Jackson. “I believe Maine’s wood-based energy industry can help reinvigorate our rural economy and lower energy costs for the people of Maine.”
The first bill – LD 912, “An Act To Establish the Wood Energy Investment Program” – would create a new Wood Energy Investment Program would provide incentives and low- or no-interest loans to businesses that produce energy using biomass. It would strengthen the forest products industry, lower energy costs, and increase the use of Maine wood products to generate energy.
The second bill – LD 1622, “An Act To Promote the Use of Wood Pellet Central Heating Systems” – would increase incentives through Efficiency Maine to install wood pellet heating systems. The bill would allow Efficiency Maine to offer up to $10,000 incentives for residential and up to $20,000 for commercial and industrial installations of wood pellet heating systems. It would bring Maine’s incentives to switch to this renewable heating source more in line with other New England states.
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. The commission outlined the need for further support of research and development projects to strengthen the biomass industry in rural Maine and move existing projects in this phase to the marketplace. It also recommended increased incentives from the Efficiency Maine Trust for those switching to pellet boiler systems for their homes, schools or businesses.
“As the market changes, Maine must shift with it. This is a way to support the hardworking men and women who need jobs, but who also take care of our forests, harvest timber, and have made Maine a leader in the forest products industry,” said President Jackson. “Together, these two bills can help write the next chapter of Maine’s logging and forestry products industry, promote job growth in rural regions of the state, lower the cost of energy and reduce the state’s reliance on heating oil.”
Over the past two decades, there has been a significant shift away from forest products manufacturing in Maine to production around the globe. Five mills have closed since 2014 citing high energy costs as part of the problem.
Both LD 912 and LD 1622 will undergo additional work sessions in committee.