by Christopher Crosby, Staff Writer
Sun Journal news story
GREENWOOD — U.S. Sen. Angus King announced Monday that he will introduce legislation that would give a boost to the state’s emerging biomass industry by lowering the hurdle for consumers to purchase wood pellet boilers.
The bill, titled the Biomass Thermal Utilization Act, would issue residential and commercial customers a tax credit of up to 30 percent of the upfront costs to install a heating system fueled by wood products.
King said that while profits from fossil fuels leave the state, biomass heating systems promote local economies.
“I like it when Maine leads. That’s what this is all about,” the Independent senator from Maine said.
The BTU Act, aimed at lowering energy costs and reducing pollution from fossil fuels, will be proposed within a larger tax code reform bill in the U.S. Congress in coming weeks.
A member of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, King announced the proposed legislation at a tour of the Mt. Abram ski resort, pitching the move as a larger effort to retool the state’s forestry sector by encouraging biomass industry growth.
“What it will do is provide a tax credit to defer the installation costs to get these units out into the marketplace, to get the production up … so the price comes down,” King said.
Dylan Voorhees, the clean energy and global warming project director for the Natural Resources Council of Maine, said there is a sound business case to be made for renewable resources as costs are less volatile than oil.
“There are few businesses around the state that are doing as much and in as diverse ways to reduce their environmental impact,” Voorhees said.
The backdrop of blustery, cold conditions Monday morning underscored a hole in the tax incentives blanket geared toward promoting renewable energy supplies. While investment tax credits for capital costs incurred during installations of popular renewable sources such as solar power, there are none for biomass.
The ski resort, which recently installed an 803-solar panel array, received $235,000 from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, as well as tax breaks to reimburse its installation costs.
Yet, when Mt. Abram swapped out its oil burner for a $67,200 wood pellet boiler to heat its lodge, there was nothing for which to apply. The only apparent rebate offered for similar installations comes through Efficiency Maine, which offers $5,000 for high-efficiency pellet boilers, according to its website.
As with its other initiatives, Mt. Abram General Manager David Scanlan said the bill would fill a tax credit niche.
“The programs have made it possible for us to innovate and stay ahead on breakthrough technology,” Scanlan said.
While there are no hard numbers on the size of the biomass economy in Maine, biomass outfits in Maine are on the rise, Voorhees said. According to the Maine Forest Products Council, 16 percent of all trees harvested go to the biomass electricity and heating industries.
While it can take several years for buyers to see a return on their investment, renewable energy systems can last decades. Tax incentives help buyers take a leap over the cost hurdle, he said.
Over a decade, those tax credits could tally between $19 million and $115 million, according to estimates from the Joint Committee on Taxation provided by King spokesperson Scott Ogden.
For the ski resort, there’s also a conscious effort to confront climate change. Scanlan said a “natural synergy” exists between green energy sources and its business.
In 2010, the resort swapped 90 snow-making guns to models using less compressed air in 2010. A year later, it installed two semiautomatic wood pellet-fired boilers, manufactured in Bethel, which heat the base lodge. The use of pellets, which come from a company in Strong, have seen heating costs plummet to about $8,000 a year.
The electricity generated from the solar panels has offset approximately 70 percent of the resort’s annual electricity consumption. The resort has an electric car charging port, and is testing an innovative snow gun that does not use compressed air.
“This is a crucial part of how we, as a small mountain, stay competitive with larger mountains in the area,” he said.