Two energy bills passed in the last hours of the legislative session appear to be headed in two different directions.

Lawmakers approved a $13.4 million bailout of the biomass industry that is promised to save hundreds of jobs for those who work in the wood-to-energy plants as well as the loggers and truckers who deliver fuel to the plants.

At the same time, lawmakers passed a comprehensive rewrite of state solar energy policy, which is projected to create hundreds of jobs and dramatically increase the number and types of solar-generating facilities in the state.

Both have been sent to the governor’s desk, where he is expected to sign the biomass bill and veto the solar bill. But really, he should sign both: The biomass rescue measure would buy some time for a troubled industry, while the solar bill would help build a new one. Maine needs both.

Biomass plants have enjoyed a symbiotic relationship with the paper industry, creating a market for wood waste that would otherwise have to be burried in a landfill. They have also benefited from the move away from coal-fired power plants, since electricity produced at the biomass plants could be sold as renewable energy to other Northeastern states.

But Massachusetts has changed its policies and no longer considers wood-fired plants to meet its carbon reduction standards; Connecticut may follow suit. Low oil and gas prices this winter have made the price of biomass power uncompetitive. The bill would create a fund administered by the Maine Public Utilities Commission to offset the cost of above-market-priced electricity, keeping the plants and their suppliers in business.


As a short-term measure, this makes sense, but it’s no solution. If gas prices don’t climb and if other states don’t consider biomass plants to be renewable, these companies will be back in this situation again. Taxpapers can’t be asked to keep the industry afloat forever.

The solar bill, on the other hand, is part of a long-term strategy to diversify Maine’s energy mix and keep money that would be sent to out-of-state oil and gas companies here in the Maine economy, circulating and creating jobs.

The bill would establish a market for solar power collected on the roofs of single-family homes, as well in cooperatively owned community solar farms, or in facilities designed to put power on the grid when the sun is shining. Long-term contracts to buy power at a fixed price from solar producers would be the catalyst for millions of dollars worth of private investment.

Unlike the challenges faced by the biomass industry, expanding the solar power industry is something that Mainers can control, building an industry that can’t be outsourced.

Maine should not turn its back on the people who make their living in the woods, but holding on to what’s left of what we used to have will not be enough to build a thriving economy. Gov. Paul LePage should look to the future as well as the past and sign both bills.

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