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Maine Loggers Say Biomass Energy Company Fails To Pay For Wood

Wood scraps used in biomass energy.

A biomass energy company subsidized by Maine taxpayers continues to struggle. Loggers say Stored Solar isn’t paying them for wood they’ve delivered to its plants. But another biomass energy company eligible for the incentives is hitting its targets.

George Moon is a fourth-generation logger and owner of TJ Timber Products in Hancock, a three-person operation that’s seen hard times in recent years, as Maine paper mills have shut down. He says he hasn’t been paid since April for wood-fuel he’s delivered to Stored Solar’s Jonesboro biomass plant. His tab, he says, is now nearly $50,000. Meanwhile, he’s had to pay the Downeast landowners whose properties he’s logged.

“So I had to go borrow the money from the bank so I could pay my landowners their stumpage so I didn’t get in trouble that way,” Moon says. “And I’ve worked with my creditors until I can play catch up, and get back on my feet and everything and recoup what I’ve lost, if they pay me.”

Stored Solar officials could not immediately be reached for comment and one top manager has recently left the company, according to a Bangor Daily News report.

Dana Doran, executive director of the Professional Logging Contractors of Maine says Stored Solar hasn’t paid three other logging companies for several weeks and the companies are owed an amount that’s now in the six figures. Doran points out that the problem first came to light five months ago.

“The frustration with contractors that have continued to deliver to Stored Solar since the first issue arose in March is that the same issue that was brought up then has not been rectified and in fact, it’s probably getting worse,” says Doran.

Last year the Legislature authorized the use of up to $13.6 million of taxpayer funds, over two years, to incentivize operations by biomass facilities that met certain targets, such as energy production, retaining in-state employees and procuring wood from in-state contractors. Stored Solar won the chance to qualify for half the incentives:  By June it had qualified for roughly $1 million, but it also missed targets that could have rewarded it with another $1.3 million.

Meanwhile, it’s a different story for the company that qualified for the other half of the incentive fund. Re-Energy Holdings Inc. operates four facilities in Maine. Company spokeswoman Sarah Boggess says the plants in Ashland and Fairfield are meeting their targets.

“Certainly market conditions remain challenging but that contract has been a lifeline for these two facilities up in Aroostook County, and we appreciate it very much,” Boggess says.

Tim Richards, the wood-sourcing manager for Re-energy’s Maine plants, says thanks in part to the state incentives, the company will take - and pay for - as much wood grown in Maine as contractors can deliver.

“We pay for our materials every week like clockwork, and not only that, ever since this subsidy kicked in we have not refused one single Maine ton from a logger or a pellet mill that met our quality specifications,” Richards says. “So we are open for business and we pay our folks.”

Downeast logger George Moon says Re-Energy’s plants are too far away to make it worthwhile to truck his biomass material to them. He’s stopped delivering to Stored Solar, and he’s filed suit against the company. He wants the company to succeed, he says, but he needs to protect himself, in case Stored Solar goes bankrupt.

This story was originally published Aug. 22, 2017 at 5:29 p.m. ET.

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.