Maine forests next on the chopping block for biomass

Maine is seeking to dramatically increase production of woody biomass fuel, and the prospect of federal funding– some of it in the form of new “clean energy” tax credits – is driving the expansion.

The proposed One North FPC plant would produce wood pellets at the site of a former paper mill in Millinocket for export to overseas markets. But the viability of this project depends on a massive influx of federal funds to construct a 106 mile rail corridor between Millinock and Searsport, one of Maine’s largest deep-water shipping ports.  According to an announcement on Monday, project backers, including the State of Maine, are seeking $56.8 million from the Federal Railroad Administration to support the rail expansion.

Meanwhile, another company is eyeing the Searsport marine terminal.  Earlier this month, DG Fuels announced plans to build a $4.4 billion “sustainable” aviation fuel facility at a former Air Force base in Aroostook County in northern Maine.  Once complete, the proposed biomass gasification complex would convert about 1.7 million tons of forest and agricultural biomass each year into hydrogen fuels. The gas would then be sent via a 200-mile pipeline to Searsport, where it would be shipped to airline companies throughout the East Coast.

While the technology to be used is speculative and has not been proven feasible at scale, the market is there. Two major airlines have already agreed to purchase any fuel generated from a similar facility DG Fuels is planning to build in Louisiana.  And new clean energy tax credits and loans provided through the recently enacted federal Inflation Reduction Act could make it financially viable.

Until now, most of Maine’s biomass fuel production has been for domestic use, in biomass power plants that have required tens of millions of dollars in state and federal bail-outs and for domestic wood pellet sales, primarily for heating. If these new facilities operate as planned, Maine’s forests will be subject to the same devastating damage that states in the U.S. Southeast are experiencing. The DG Fuels proposal alone would use more than one third of the biomass that Maine currently produces each year. There is nothing sustainable about this. President Biden has claimed to champion forest protection to combat climate change.  It would be profoundly anti-climate and anti-science to use federal funds to support liquidating Maine’s forests for fuel.

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