Catherine B. Johnson, North Woods Project Director
Senator John Cleveland, Chair
Representative Barry Hobbins, Chair
Joint Standing Committee on Energy, Utilities & Technology
Senator Cleveland and Representative Hobbins,
While NRCM supports the use of wood pellets as a heating source to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels, overriding concerns about the bill cause us to oppose it.
NRCM is strongly opposed to sections 1, 2, and 5 of LD 1468. Revenue earned as a result of harvesting on Public Reserved Lands is, by law, limited in the purposes to which it can be used. As stated in the attached letter from the Department of the Attorney General, December 15, 1992, funds received from harvesting on Public Reserved Lands are part of a public trust for certain designated purposes. In that way, they are unlike other state lands which are not subject to a trust obligation. The purposes set forth in LD 1468 are far beyond those allowed under the Public Reserved Lands trust.
Even if the funds could legally be used for other purposes, the Public Reserved Lands are currently already being harvested to their maximum sustainable rate and the funds from those harvests are necessary to run the programs and operations at the Division, including habitat protection and recreation, as well as the costs of managing the timber resource. In fact, these are the only funds available to manage the Public Reserved Lands as they receive no general funds. The allowable cut on the Public Reserved Lands was raised in 2011 to 141,000 cords/year as a result of recent inventory work. In 2012, 128,000 cords were cut. Because weather, insects, and markets for various wood products are unpredictable, this harvest rate is within the year-to-year variable rate and essentially constitutes full harvest.
Because it would be illegal to divert funds from the Public Reserved Lands trust and because those funds are already needed and fully utilized by the Division of Parks and Public Lands to carry out their forest, habitat and recreation programs, we urge you to delete sections 1, 2 and 5 from the bill.
Mainers are over-dependent on oil for home heating, and more aggressive measures are needed to reduce this dependency. NRCM’s top priority for doing this is to increase investments in energy efficiency and weatherization. These strategies and investments are generally the most cost-effective options. However, they alone are insufficient to transition to a more sustainable energy economy. Much greater use of renewable energy is also required. One of the tough questions is how to pay the upfront investment that will reduce energy costs. We appreciate that the sponsor and the bill’s supporters have not proposed to take funds out of existing efficiency and weatherization programs that are reducing costs and increasing clean energy; they are already underfunded. The PACE loan program already exists for energy improvements that save a minimal level of energy, and wood pellet heating equipment has qualified for several loans.
NRCM has supported efforts in the past to extend the efficiency charge from electricity and natural gas to all fuels, in order to support all-fuel programs that save energy and cut costs. Much attention has been focused on heating oil. However there is no reason that this could not extend to wood pellets. A tiny pellet surcharge could fund a program similar to the one proposed in this bill. (We believe the details of the program should be left to Efficiency Maine, which is focused on strategies that maximize the impact of public dollars, with heavy reliance on proper incentive levels and program evaluations.) We note that this session we have supported, in concept, a proposal to use some RGGI funds for the residential heating sector, which could include efficient wood pellet heating.
In conclusion, we believe this bill cannot be passed in its current form with funds taken from a public trust. While there may be alternative funding sources that the committee should consider, it may be late in the session to introduce alternatives that may be complex from a policy or political perspective.