September 23, 2017
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Maine’s biomass bailout bill isn’t helping loggers as much as it was supposed to

By Darren Fishell, BDN Staff
Updated:
Gabor Degre | BDN
Gabor Degre | BDN
Wood chips are dumped from a truck in West Enfield in a 2016 file photo.

The biomass company in line for a state subsidy intended to help maintain a market for loggers purchased only half the wood it proposed buying under the subsidy arrangement.

Taxpayers are shielded somewhat from the deficiency, as the company stands to collect fewer state dollars for falling short under the agreement.

In newly required reports, Stored Solar LLC disclosed that in the first half of the year, it was only 31 percent of the way toward its year-end wood purchasing goal. It had purchased about 155,300 tons, while promising to purchase at least 500,000 tons by year’s end.

The company could still make up ground in the second half of the year.

The two-year subsidy arrangement depends on the company’s performance, potentially delivering millions in taxpayer subsidies to Stored Solar during the contract term.

[ Maine’s $13M bailout of biomass plants will mean jobs, but at a cost of $23,700 each]

The company performed more favorably on its employment and investment goals, having made about half of a required $2.5 million in capital investments at its mills in West Enfield and Jonesboro during the first six months of 2017.

The company reported that it fell just short of employment goals, with a drop in the second quarter of the year. Stored Solar promised to pay 42 full-time employees for the duration of the contract, but it fell short in the second quarter, averaging about 35 full-time employees for that period.

Dan Cashman, a spokesman for the company, said in June that Stored Solar maintained employment above 42 full-time workers in May, despite a prolonged shutdown.

That’s not what the company told regulators. They fell far short of that goal in May, paying the equivalent of 27 full-time workers.

The company continued to face outages in Jonesboro and West Enfield and has not made any major announcements about its larger plans in Maine, despite a legal settlement over its planned purchase of the shuttered Great Northern Paper mill site in East Millinocket.

[ Settlement in hand, shuttered Maine mill buyers face funding hurdle]

The company’s share of a $13.4 million subsidy fund also depends on how much power the company generates. It’s fallen short in that way, too, putting out only about half the electricity it planned to through the first six months of the year.

[ Jonesboro biomass plant fires up for the first time in months, then shuts off]

Stored Solar has generated enough power to collect about $1 million in state subsidies but has missed out on about $1.3 million in subsidies intended to make their way to employees of the facilities and, primarily, back into the woods to support loggers hit hard by the decline of Maine’s paper industry.

At its current rate of performance, the company would collect about three-fourths of the ultimate subsidy it earns for generation through the rest of the year.

Regulators required Stored Solar to disclose its economic impact measures after they allowed the company to change the timing of its subsidy payments, collecting payments at the end of the year rather than monthly.

Regulators did not require the second subsidy beneficiary, ReEnergy, to disclose its economic impact figures. ReEnergy has produced nearly all of the power allowed under its subsidy agreement.

 


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