PORTLAND, Maine — Regulators have asked a company that’s receiving state subsidies for operating biomass plants in West Enfield and Jonesboro to explain why loggers supplying the plants report not being paid in more than a month.
Dana Doran, executive director of the Professional Logging Contractors of Maine, told the Bangor Daily News on Tuesday that some his members have not been paid by the company, Stored Solar, since early February.
On Wednesday afternoon, the lead staff attorney for the Maine Public Utilities Commission sent a letter to Stored Solar partner Bill Harrington asking for “an immediate update on the operational and financial status of the West Enfield and Jonesboro facilities and the status of any payment obligation to suppliers, contractors or employees.”
Stored Solar has received $426,000 in subsidies for electricity generated in January and February, according to regulatory filings.
To receive the subsidies, Stored Solar agreed to employ 42 people and buy 500,000 tons of Maine wood fiber each year. The company also agreed to make $2.5 million in capital expenditures on the biomass facility this year.
“As provided by the agreement, the purchase of biomass materials is an essential part of the economic benefits that are to be provided by Stored Solar,” wrote Mitchell Tannenbaum, the PUC’s general counsel. “The contract payments are premised on the economic benefits that are to accrue to the state of Maine.”
Harry Lanphear, spokesman for the PUC, said that Central Maine Power Co. is holding a cash deposit of about $1.2 million from Stored Solar. The money acts as a security deposit for the subsidies from taxpayer dollars.
Lanphear said Stored Solar is due to boost that security amount to around $2 million next Monday, to cover the second quarter of the subsidy payments. He said that commission would likely look into how to access the security deposit if Stored Solar does not report that it has paid its suppliers, but he noted “we really haven’t gotten to that step, in detail, yet.”
Harrington, with Stored Solar, declined to comment by phone to the Bangor Daily News about the claimed nonpayment.
The governor’s office also did not clarify whether Stored Solar’s financial troubles prompted Gov. Paul LePage’s letter asking regulators to revise rules for the company’s security deposits.
LePage’s request would have regulators verify delivery on the economic promises more often than once a year. In effect, that could lower the total deposit required to secure the full subsidy payment. He wrote the changes should provide the “same level of assurance regarding in-state benefits.”
The other biomass subsidy recipient, ReEnergy, wrote in a filing to the PUC that it did not request the change.
While requesting an “immediate update,” the request from regulators did not set a hard deadline for Stored Solar to file.