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 in opposition to LD 953.
NRCM supports the use of woody biomass for energy. Wood is a renewable, local fuel that can displace fossil fuels. But as with every type of fuel, we should use wood efficiently. Stand-alone biomass plants are the least efficient use of wood for energy. They are only 20-25% efficient. In contrast, modern thermal biomass or combined heat and power (CHP) facilities are 75-80% efficient.  This bill contains no requirement that bond funds go to efficient uses of Maine’s wood resource. Inefficient stand-alone biomass plants, which Maine taxpayers and ratepayers have been subsidizing for about three decades, would likely be major beneficiaries of this bond.
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 bond funds for thermal use of wood for schools and other commercial- and institutional-scale buildings
We 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 the 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 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.
In addition to being inefficient, environmentally harmful, and unable to compete on cost with other energy sources, such as renewables and natural gas, Maine’s stand- alone biomass plants are likely reaching the end of their useful lives because they are 25 to 30 years old. At some point soon, it will likely take very large investments to keep these plants running. NRCM urges this Committee to be careful when considering using more public funds for these facilities. If their owners shut them down due to the likely near-term need for major capital expenditures, public spending on these plants will go to waste.
NRCM also believes the language in LD 953 is vague and does not provide clear criteria to ensure the effective and efficient use of public funds. Section A(5)(C) is particularly unclear. These criteria do little to justify optimism that funds issued under this bond bill would lead to profitable ventures that would employ people over the long term.
Modern wood chip heating systems for buildings use existing, efficient boiler technology that will save money for building owners, create and protect jobs, and help the environment. We urge the Committee to use public funds for this purpose rather than for inefficient biomass electric plants or exotic and unproven “bio-refineries”.
We urge the Committee to vote Ought Not to Pass on LD 953. I would be happy to answer 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 nonprofit 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.