The Professional Logging Contractors of Maine and the Maine Pellet Fuels Association read the lead editorial in the Jan. 14 Central Maine Sunday, “Our View: LePage rightly opposes biomass subsidy bond,” with dismay. We’d like to set the record straight on the important legislative proposal, which was inaccurately criticized by both the newspaper and our governor.

The false narrative that appears to be building in response to the bill, An Act To Authorize a General Fund Bond Issue To Support Wood Energy Use in Maine, is that a taxpayer-funded bailout of the biomass industry in 2016 has failed and now the industry is back looking for more money to support itself because it cannot compete. In fact, the biomass contract incentives provided by Maine lawmakers in 2016 were always intended to act as a short-term bridge to keep the industry viable while alternatives could be developed. Everyone — including Maine Gov. Paul LePage — agrees that more efficient wood energy usage is needed to make the industry competitive. The enhanced usage of Maine’s incredible forest resource is exactly what the bill now under consideration would largely fund, not through subsidies, as headlines would have you believe, but loans to be repaid in perpetuity.

The editorial’s subheadline, “Maine should be looking to the future for forest products, not clinging to the past,” misses the point entirely and is not an example of good journalism. In reality, the future is exactly what the bond bill is trying to shape.

The proposed bonds would provide low-interest loans to encourage more efficient use of wood energy. This would include the construction of steam piping from existing stand-alone biomass generators to adjacent manufacturing facilities, construction of combined heat and power cogeneration boilers for manufacturing facilities that use wood, and for converting fossil fuel boilers in public and commercial facilities to boilers that use wood delivered fuel including pellets and chips. These are wood energy uses with a solid return on investment and that can compete in today’s marketplace without subsidy. This is the future we are fighting for and that these bonds would support: local jobs, built on homegrown energy, and supporting a market for local wood.

The Jan. 14 editorial followed a story in the Press Herald, “LePage tells lawmakers he will oppose borrowing aimed at helping biomass industry,” covering the governor’s remarks at a Jan. 10 hearing on the bonds. In that story, the governor was quoted as saying, “Let’s not keep going back doing the same thing we’ve done and know we are going to lose money.”

We could not agree more with the governor. In fact, while the governor stated his opposition to the bonds at the hearing, many in attendance felt his remarks actually served to highlight that the infrastructure and new uses the bonds would pay for are exactly what the entire forest products value chain requires to be competitive.

We also agree with the editorial’s recognition of the great potential for Maine wood. Composite building materials and jet fuel from wood cellulose are excellent examples of promising technologies under development. We would like to see this future too, but those who think we can have it without a viable wood energy market are sorely mistaken.

More than 70 percent of Mainers rely on costly heating oil, the highest percentage of any state in the nation. Seventy-eight percent of the money spent on heating oil, or over $700 million, leave Maine entirely each year.

By contrast, wood energy systems provide important bulk demand for wood chips and pellets from Maine’s forests, jobs for Maine’s loggers and truckers, opportunities for heating equipment firms and public examples of the workability – particularly the cost savings — of modern wood heating. Maine clearly has a solid foundation on which to build the wood energy sector in the years to come, keeping our energy dollars circulating here at home, rather than leaving the state.

Dana Doran is executive director of the Professional Logging Contractors of Maine, and William Bell is executive director of the Maine Pellet Fuels Association.

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