MADISON — With the help of renewable energy, a major lumber producer in Moose River Plantation is eliminating hundreds of thousands of gallons of oil a year and remaining competitive.

The sawmill, Moose River Lumber Co., produces 85 million board feet of lumber each year and employs 75 people with the help of a biomass boiler that burns shavings and sawdust, said vice president Jeff Desjardins.

The boiler produces steam, which spins a turbine that generates electricity. The turbine saves about $400,000 on electricity bills each year.

“It’s hopefully going to keep us there for a long time,” Desjardins said.

Desjardins, along with three other leaders in Maine’s energy sector, discussed the electricity market before a group of 50 people Friday at the annual legislative breakfast sponsored by the Somerset Economic Development Corporation.

Speaking at the American Legion Hall, they agreed that renewable energy and energy efficiency are essential to reducing the cost of electricity for all Mainers.

Ken Fletcher, director of the Maine Office of Energy Independence and Security, said Maine’s price of electricity is the lowest in New England. “So you think we’re in pretty good shape? Unfortunately, New England is highest in the nation, or close to it. I don’t think they give out medals for coming in next to last,” he said.

The goal of Gov. Paul LePage’s administration is to develop electricity options for Mainers, he said.

“We want to foster competitive renewable energy because we know, particularly with oil, there is a finite amount, and the price is subject to supply and demand,” he said. “We want to develop options. We say everything’s on the table because there is no silver bullet.”

In addition to conventional power, options include locally distributed generation and energy storage. He said Maine is doing well to produce renewable energy in comparison with the rest of New England and called for the state’s neighbors to step up the pace.

Maine produces 36 percent of New England’s hydropower, 20 percent of New England’s biomass, 95 percent of its operating wind capacity and has 50 percent of its wind projects under development, he said.

“The fact of the matter is, Maine is the leader in renewable energy sources in New England,” he said. “Maybe the rest of the folks ought to catch up.”

Dylan Voorhees, clean energy and global warming project director for the Natural Resources Council of Maine, said there’s a fair amount of agreement on what the energy problems are, but there’s disagreement about how to improve.

“Why do other states have cheaper power? There is one fundamental factor that drives energy prices in this region and everywhere else and it’s the cost of the resources, and there is one resource that’s cheaper than all the rest, and it’s coal,” he said. “Coal I don’t really see as an option for generating a lot more power.”

The resources serving Maine’s electric load are made up of natural gas (29 percent), hydropower (26 percent) and nuclear (23 percent), he said.

Beth Nagusky, Maine office director at Environment Northeast, said electricity represents 10 percent of the average Maine household’s energy bill. The remainder is spent on transportation and heating oil.

One factor in increasing electricity bills is the cost to transmit the energy, she said.

“Transmission rates in New England have been growing so much faster than the rest of the country,” she said.

She advocated for efficiency, saying: “Energy efficiency is our cheapest resource. The cheapest kilowatt hour is the one we don’t use.”

Erin Rhoda — 612-2368

[email protected]

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