Business

Legislation would support County’s energy, forest products industries

AUGUSTA, Maine — A bill to support both the energy and forest products industries in Aroostook County received a public hearing in the Legislature’s Energy, Utilities and Technology Committee on Jan. 23. 

The proposal,  LD 1913, An Act To Prohibit Certain Wheeling Charges for the Transmission of Electricity, would prohibit an investor-owned transmission and distribution utility located in an area administered by the Northern Maine Independent System Administrator from charging a person generating or selling electricity for the transmission, or wheeling, of that electricity to or from Canada over the utility’s transmission system. These wheeling charges can serve as a barrier to job creation, economic development and the generation of renewable energy in Aroostook County.

Senate President Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, introduced the bill.

“The hardworking women and men of Aroostook County have always found a way to use the resources available and make a living in rural Maine. With challenges facing the pulp and paper industry, workers and businesses in the forest products industry have also embraced the biomass industry, which is good for our environment, economy and our wallets,” Jackson said.

 “However, significant barriers remain that are preventing this industry from really getting off the ground in Aroostook County, starting with wheeling charges and getting connected to the New England Grid,” he said. “This bill is about giving this promising industry a chance to create good-paying jobs, support our loggers and wood-haulers, lower energy costs and a chance to thrive in Maine.” 

Aroostook County is in the Maine Public District service territory, which is currently operated by Emera Maine and isn’t connected to the rest of the New England power grid, Jackson said. As a result, facilities that generate electricity in Aroostook County must send their electricity through the Canadian power grid before it can be sold and distributed on New England or any other American power grid. Wheeling chargers have made this costly, hurting power producers and preventing the opening of power plants in the area.

Two Aroostook County biomass facilities shut down in recent years due to economic challenges. According to Jackson, Larry Richardson, the CEO of ReEnergy, which owned and operated the biomass facilities, cited these wheeling charges as part of the reason these facilities weren’t economically viable. The closure of these two facilities resulted in the loss of an estimated 40 good-paying jobs and hurt the forest products industry. 

Biomass power is a wood-based renewable energy source that utilizes forest products to generate electricity. With the closure of several mills and the industry shift over the past decade, Biomass helps support the forest products industry, especially logging and wood-hauling jobs. It also helps mills by using residual waste from wood products. A 2017 report from the Natural Resources Council of Maine highlights the environmental and economic benefits of biomass from lowering energy costs to reducing the state’s reliance on fossil fuels. 

LD 1913 faces further action in committee, as well as floor votes in the Senate and House.

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