Good morning Senator Hamper, Representative Gattine, and members of the Committee on Appropriations and Financial Affairs. My name is Nick Bennett and I am the Staff Scientist for the Natural Resources Council of Maine. I am testifying neither for nor against LD 897. NRCM supports providing funding for combined heat and power (CHP) for saw mills and for converting fossil fuel boilers to wood in public buildings, but we oppose providing funding for steam piping at biomass electric plants.
CHP is a good technology for saw mills. Primarily, saw mills use wood boilers for heat, and they generate waste steam that can be used to generate electricity. However, it is important that true CHP systems not be too large. If they are too large, they cannot make efficient use of waste steam and essentially become biomass electric generators. CHP works efficiently when the primary product is heat and not so efficiently when the primary product is electricity. We support Efficiency Maine’s criteria for CHP and believe that the Committee should only provide bond funds to saw mills that meet these criteria. I have attached these criteria to my testimony. An example of an Efficiency Maine-approved saw mill CHP project is the Hancock Lumber saw mill in Bethel. I have attached an overview of this project to my testimony.
NRCM also strongly supports bonds to increase the use of wood chip heating in Maine commercial- and institutional-scale buildings. According to the Biomass Energy Resource Center in Vermont:
The most energy efficient use for biomass in general is thermal energy at the community scale, where local wood resources are produced and used to provide local energy, fueling the local economy, and at heat-led CHP operations of a scale that can be accommodated by the resource. Directing biomass into appropriately scaled applications such as heat (or CHP) for schools, hospitals, office buildings, college campuses, and district heating systems is essential for creating a wood-energy economy that is flexible and resilient over time.
Maine has an opportunity to convert many of our large buildings from oil to wood heat. Some of our neighboring states have much more successful records of accomplishing this. For example, more than 30% of students in Vermont attend schools heated with wood. NRCM would strongly support substantially more bond funding for thermal use of wood for schools and other commercial- and institutional-scale buildings than LD 897 proposes.
NRCM recently commissioned a report from scientists at the Spatial Informatics Group-Natural Assets Laboratory (SIG-NAL) to look at the environmental and economic impacts of using Maine’s low-grade wood for building heat instead of at stand-alone biomass electric plants. Maine could heat nearly 2000 buildings with this wood, reduce its non-transportation carbon emissions by ten percent, and save about $270 million per year on heating fuels for buildings. This would keep roughly that same amount of money in-state that now flows out-of-state, largely for the purchase of fuel. SIG-NAL also estimated that large-scale investment in wood-chip building heat would create thousands of jobs in installation and maintenance of new boilers and protect existing logging and trucking jobs. I have attached a summary of this report to my testimony. The summary also contains a link to the full report. I would also be happy to provide a hard copy of the full report to any Committee member who would like one.
NRCM does not support spending public money on piping systems for biomass electric plants. These facilities are too large to support efficient CHP. In order to do so, they would have to be located near cities or towns, which could perhaps make use of the huge quantities of waste heat they generate. Even Colby College’s relative large heating plant is only about 6 MW. Maine’s stand-alone biomass plants range in size from 24.5 to 48 MW. It is not realistic to expect enough businesses to locate near these facilities and use their waste heat to make them cost competitive or energy efficient. Moreover, these facilities are likely near the end of their useful lives. Upgrading them for the long term is not likely an effective use of capital for their owners, which is why the large companies with deep pockets that currently own or have owned Maine biomass plants have let many of them close down rather than invest in them. These plants also already receive almost all of the subsidies available through Maine’s Renewable Portfolio Standard and have received as much as $2 billion in above-market-rate subsidies over the past several decades.
It’s time for the biomass electric plants to stand on their own two feet.
Thank you for the opportunity to testify. I would be happy to take any questions.
 Biomass Energy Resource Center. BIOMASS ENERGY: Efficiency, Scale, and Sustainability. P. 1. Accessed at http://www.biomasscenter.org/policy-statements/FSE-Policy.pdf
 SIG-NAL is a non-profit organization with a mission to develop and apply the scientific foundation needed to link economic and environmental interests by accounting for the full value of natural assets. See http://sig-nal.org/index.html.
 Central Maine Power testimony to the Joint Standing Committee on Energy, Utilities, and Technology March 28, 2016 (Maine Legislature) http://www.mainelegislature.org/legis/bills/getTestimonyDoc.asp?id=37957