November 18, 2017
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Study: Make big changes to energy rules to aid Maine’s struggling loggers

By Darren Fishell, BDN Staff
Updated:
Gabor Degre | BDN | BDN
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Wood chips are dumped from a truck at Covanta Energy's West Enfield facility on Jan. 7. The facility burns biomass to generate electricity.
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PORTLAND, Maine — A group that studied Maine’s biomass industry has recommended that lawmakers extend state renewable energy purchasing requirements and urged policymakers to take a broad view of the state’s forest economy for ways to help.

That includes recommendations that call for broad changes to the state’s energy policy that chip away at monopolies held by existing electric utilities, such as allowing permitting of electrical lines “for persons other than transmission and distribution utilities.”

The broad 24-page study comes as a federal team also is studying and assessing ways to help Maine’s forest products industry, which has been hit by several paper mill closures in the last five years. The biomass industry has provided loggers a market for some of their low-grade wood, while they send other wood fiber out to make into wood pulp or sawlogs.

The study urges waiting for the federal assessment team to take action, but its recommendations are specific in many parts.

The 13-member group suggested that the state both extend and expand its renewable energy purchasing requirements, adding a new class of renewable credits for heating systems. New Hampshire added renewable credits for thermal energy to its state program in 2012.

The report also suggests that lawmakers clearly extend the state’s existing requirements for purchasing renewable electrical energy.

State law set a goal for 2017 and regulators expected the policy to continue indefinitely at those levels, but Maine Public reported the law does not specify that the program should continue. It also suggested the program should have incentives for electrical or thermal generation projects that have in-state economic benefits.

Those recommendations are just two of 15 from the group, which also suggested giving statewide clearance for “microgrids,” which use local power generation or energy storage to prevent the need to increase the capacity of power lines delivering energy from more distant power plants.

State law and regulators have allowed such a pilot project to move ahead in Boothbay. State regulators are studying the use of microgrids to solve transmission and distribution problems in other parts of the state. Regulators have requested a law dealing with investigations of such “nontransmission alternatives” when it considers transmission line project proposals.

The report also called for encouraging installation of combined heat and power systems for schools and public institutions and for the private sector through the Efficiency Maine Trust.

The report developed five primary goals, which it identified as encouraging investment in the state’s existing biomass facilities, encouraging combined heat and power installations, encouraging biomass generation on-site at manufacturing facilities, using federal grant programs and creating general policies that encourage biomass energy production.

Read the full report below.

 


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