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Lawmaker Threatens To Intervene If Regulators Approve $1.2M Biomass Plant Subsidy

thestoredsolar.com
An analysis released last week found that Stored Solar LLC bought less than 40 percent of the waste-wood from loggers than it had promised to buy and invested than it was supposed to invest into two biomass plants in West Enfield and Jonesboro.

The lead Democrat on the Legislature's Energy Committee says he and other lawmakers might intervene if the Maine Public Utilities Commission (PUC) approves a $1.2 million subsidy for Stored Solar LLC.

The subsidy is a recommendation from the PUC staff, which evaluated whether Stored Solar fulfilled terms of a contract approved in 2016.

An analysis released last week found that the company bought less than 40 percent of the waste-wood from loggers than it had promised to buy and invested only 60 percent of what it was supposed to invest into two biomass plants in West Enfield and Jonesboro.

As a result, PUC staff is recommending cutting Stored Solar's subsidy by 20 percent.

State Rep. Seth Berry, a Democrat from Bowdoinham who co-chairs the Legislature's Energy and Utilities Committee, says that's still too much.

Credit Maine House Democrats
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Maine House Democrats
State Rep. Seth Berry, a Democrat from Bowdoinham who co-chairs the Legislature's Energy and Utilities Committee says the 20 percent subsidy cut isn't nearly enough for a company that failed to deliver on two of its three contract promises

"If the commission goes with the staff recommendation then it is clear to me to that there will need to be legislative action," says Berry.

Berry says the 20 percent subsidy cut isn't nearly enough for a company that failed to deliver on two of its three contract promises. He also questions whether Stored Solar met the minimum operation requirements since it bought less than 40 percent of the waste-wood than was required from loggers – which was the primary reason for the $13.4 million biomass bailout law that passed two years ago.

"I question whether they could have operated at 53 percent of the time when, by their own numbers, they have purchased 60 percent less wood than was promised. It just doesn't add up," Berry says.

He says the committee could respond with legislation if the three member commission opts to approve the reduced subsidy, a vote that could take place in early April.

Berry's comments illustrate lawmakers' frustration with Stored Solar, a company that has been scrutinized for not paying loggers at various points last year. Lawmakers are still working on a bill that is seeking to void Stored Solar's contract while requesting an investigation by the Attorney General. Additionally, some legislators have said the PUC was wrong to award a subsidy contract to Stored Solar, following an examination of the bailout law by Maine Public Radio.

Those issues, and the looming subsidy decision by the PUC, are expected to be discussed when the committee meets next week.

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