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Special Panel Begins Work to Help Maine's Ailing Biomass Industry

AUGUSTA, Maine - A commission of energy regulators, lawmakers and other stakeholders met today to assess the economic and environmental impacts of the state's ailing biomass industry.

The panel was created earlier this year by the Legislature, which also authorized a controversial $13.5 million, two-year bailout that will benefit a few of the state's six biomass plants and the wood products industry that relies on them.

The bailout deal has come under scrutiny because it relies on taxpayer funds to offset the impact on electricity ratepayers, and because biomass is criticized as inefficient and outdated. Nonetheless, the industry is vital to the wood products industry, including logging jobs.

Dana Doran, with the Professional Logging Contractors, urged the commission to consider solutions that will keep the industry afloat.

"We need to use this commission as the long-term roadmap.  That [the bailout] was a short-term Band-aid," Doran said. "There's a reason why we're here and that is so we don't have to repeat this. I don't want to be back here in two years to do this again."

Doran has projected that the loss of the biomass industry would cost 400 jobs at the plants and, potentially, 900 related jobs.

The commission is expected issue its report to the Legislature by early December.

Journalist Steve Mistler is Maine Public’s chief politics and government correspondent. He is based at the State House.