In April, Maine Gov. Janet Mills signed into law legislation that establishes a program to commission projects that will burn wood to create electricity and also capture the heat produced for use on-site—heat that would go to waste in a conventional power plant.
The new law is being praised for its potential to benefit Maine’s economy and the environment. However, some climate activists are cynical, saying questions remain as to whether the program will cut carbon emissions as intended.
Proposals for these facilities are expected to come from forestry or forest products businesses that could use their own wood byproducts to fuel the plants, saving them money on heat and electricity costs and providing an extra revenue stream when excess power is sold back into the grid.
“It’s renewable energy that is produced by local loggers and providing jobs for our local community,” said James Robbins, president of Robbins Lumber in Searsport, Maine, which has operated its own combined heat and power plant since 2018.
Supporters like Robbins say these facilities will uplift struggling sectors of the economy while helping reach the goals of Maine’s climate plan, which calls for the state to reduce emissions by 80% by 2050.
Greg Cunningham, director of the clean energy and climate change program at the Conservation Law Foundation, sees it differently. Cunningham says, “This is really an economic development tool to help prop up mills and not a climate solution.”
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Maine plan for wood-fired power plants draws praise and skepticism