Biomass Power’s Momentum in Maine

In the first few months of 2016, Maine lawmakers and the media have shown that when the (wood) chips are down, they will rally to do everything in their power to keep plants open.
By Bob Cleaves | March 30, 2016

In the first few months of 2016, Maine lawmakers and the media have shown that when the (wood) chips are down, they will rally to do everything in their power to keep plants open. Biomass currently provides 25 percent of Maine’s total power, not just renewable electricity, and it is encouraging to see that many Mainers want to keep it that way.

On Jan. 1, Massachusetts put into effect new regulations that require any biomass facility selling power on the New England grid to meet an arbitrary 50 percent efficiency standard to qualify for Massachusetts renewable energy credits (RECs). This disqualifies any standalone biomass facility without a steam host, a category into which falls the entire New England biomass fleet operating today. As a result, two Maine facilities have announced impending closure by the end of March, if the policy is not reversed.

The hope is that Massachusetts will reconsider its requirement, allowing the Maine facilities to remain online. This will not happen overnight, however. In the meantime, Maine lawmakers are looking at creative measures to help fill in the gaps—supporting not only biomass, but also the loggers and other rural workers who benefit from the existence of a strong biomass market.

Maine media and lawmakers have been fully supportive of biomass, going on the record for an unambiguous defense of our industry and its many benefits. Maine Gov. Paul LePage, in this year’s State of the State letter, recognized the economic role of biomass in Maine, and later held a briefing with Maine loggers and biomass power providers to hear about the current challenges and pledge the continued help of his staff in finding a solution

Some of the media stories of the past month have included:

• A Portland Press Herald story that explored the link between biomass and the state’s forestry economy, with several quotes from loggers and sawmill executives on the important role biomass plays for their businesses.

• Several Maine newspapers ran lengthy editorials on the need to reconsider state policies that are endangering Maine biomass. On the need to prevent potential job loss, the editorial said, “To help avoid that outcome, Maine should pursue policies favorable to biomass, even if that means marginally pushing up energy rates with above-market contracts. Any rate increase would be more than offset by the economic benefits of a homegrown energy supply that also means so much to forest products industry.

• Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, interviewed me for a nearly 15-minute segment on WGAN’s “Inside Maine,” during which we discussed the biomass industry and the policy solutions that could help keep plants open.

• A Portland Press Herald op-ed by Patrick Strauch further drove home the environmental benefits of biomass, and the adverse effects of state policies that make it more difficult to use biomass as a fuel for generating power. He also recognized King and Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, for their carbon neutrality amendment to the Senate energy bill.

It’s not yet clear what policy solutions will result from this wave of strong biomass support being vocalized in Maine. But we know that many Maine legislators are aware of the issue and are working to find a solution. The biomass industry is highly appreciative of these efforts.

Author: Bob Cleaves
President, Biomass Power Association
[email protected]