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Biomass Company Asks to Change Terms of State Subsidy

A biomass company at the center of a dispute over payments to loggers is now asking to change the terms of its state subsidy. The company says it wants to dispel the notion that taxpayers are getting a bad deal.

Stored Solar is receiving taxpayer-funded, above-market payments for the electricity it generates, under legislation passed last year to shore up the state’s struggling forest products economy. In return, the company must fill 42 new positions for the next two years, make capital investments of $2.5 million, buy at least a million tons of biomass fuel and post surety payments worth more than $3 million, in case of nonperformance.

Last week an organization that represents Maine loggers said Stored Solar was late with payments to some contractors who delivered wood to its plants in West Enfield and Jonesboro. Now the company is telling state regulators that it is meeting its obligations, including the new hires, and has resolved the dispute with loggers.

But Stored Solar wants to return above-market payments it has already received, forego any more for the rest of the year and then, at the end of the year, receive them all based on performance. It also wants its initial surety payment returned — about $1 million — and to be freed from making any more surety payments, including one due soon.

Company spokesman Dan Cashman says the company wants to dispel any notion that taxpayers are getting a bad deal.

“It’s not upfront. It’s not blindly given with the hope that obligations are met. It’s used after obligations are met with assurance that it’s been reviewed and agreed upon that the money was earned,” he says.

Cashman says the company’s finances are stable, even though it had to reduce operations when some loggers stopped making deliveries.

The Maine Public Utilities Commission says it is reviewing the request. A spokesman for the Professional Logging Contractors of Maine declined to comment.

A Columbia University graduate, Fred began his journalism career as a print reporter in Vermont, then came to Maine Public in 2001 as its political reporter, as well as serving as a host for a variety of Maine Public Radio and Maine Public Television programs. Fred later went on to become news director for New England Public Radio in Western Massachusetts and worked as a freelancer for National Public Radio and a number of regional public radio stations, including WBUR in Boston and NHPR in New Hampshire.