TRANSPORTATION: Bus line adds extra NYC run

Concord Coach Lines will expand its Portland-to-New York City bus service beginning April 3, just five months after launching the service. In addition to the daily trip that departs Portland at 6:30 a.m., Concord will add a second bus, departing at noon daily. Return trips will depart from New York City at 8:30 a.m. and 2 p.m. The president of Concord Coach Lines said the expansion is spurred by high demand. Read the story

ENERGY: Solar advocates endorse proposal to eliminate net metering

Advocates for a plan to increase solar energy projects in Maine by more than tenfold over the next five years said Thursday that the proposal will spur development and jobs while protecting electricity ratepayers. The plan, backed by environmental groups, solar installation companies and lawmakers, is an attempt to address the challenge posed by homes and small businesses that generate power when the sun shines but depend on the utility companies when it doesn’t. In doing so, the proposal seeks to do away with a practice called net metering – except for existing customers – and replace it with hourly metering and a 20-year price guarantee on the rate that businesses and homeowners are compensated for producing electricity. The elimination of net metering – the practice where customers with solar panels pay only for the “net” amount of electricity they buy each month, that is, what they consume minus what they generate – is one of the most significant and contnoversial elements of the proposal. Overall, the proposal seeks to increase Maine’s current solar generation from about 18 megawatts to 250 megawatts over five years. That’s enough power for 40,000 homes. Read the story

Businesses ask for review of new wind permitting options

Forest products companies that own land in unorganized parts of Maine are challenging petitions by residents of the communities who want to opt out of fast-track commercial wind development. Since Jan.1 more than 20 communities have petitioned the state under a new law that allows residents of unorganized territories to ask for exemptions to the expedited wind permitting area created under Maine’s Wind Energy Act. Several of those petitions were filed Jan. 4, the first Monday after the law went into effect. Those challenging that first round of petitions had a deadline of midnight Monday to file challenges. Forestland owners are “exercising their right to request a complete and thorough review of how such a land use designation change would affect their property, its value and future potential uses,” according to a written statement from the Maine Forest Products Council. The council represents many of the timber harvesting companies that own land in those parts of the state and has worked with some landowners on challenging the petitions. Read the story

FISHERIES: Lawmakers endorse modest chances to lobster licensing

Lawmakers on the committee that handles marine resources issues voted Wednesday to make modest changes in the rules that control lobster fishing licenses in Maine, side-stepping a more controversial proposal for access to Maine’s most lucrative fishery. Members of the Marine Resources Committee voted 11-1 to increase the age for young people to finish a required apprenticeship program, and to take steps to verify the validity of hundreds of names on a license waiting list. The action was a compromise between attempts by the Department of Marine Resources to trim the waiting list without hurting the resource and resistance from established lobstermen, who were opposed to what they saw as a loss of control and the potential for overfishing. Interest by the state in reforming the licensing process has been building for years, but has repeatedly failed under pressure from the industry. The department’s initial proposal was crafted after four bills that dealt with license changes were killed in the last legislative session. Read the story

RETAIL: Restaurant owner on hot seat for loan

The Biddeford-Saco Area Economic Development Corp. says it is “taking legal action” against Harold Royals, the owner of a yet-to-open restaurant in Biddeford called Steer N Stein, for defaulting on $125,000 in business loans it issued to him in October 2015. The development group also accuses Royals of spending loan money “on activities unrelated to the start-up of the restaurant.” A Facebook post by Royals indicted that he encountered unexpected renovation costs. He did not respond to requests for comment. Read the story

EDUCATION: New partnership tot benefit students and brewers

The University of Southern Maine and the Maine Brewers’ Guild have formed a partnership around a new research lab. The guild and school began to outline operations of the new lab last year. Under the partnership, students get real-world experience by testing various beer formulations and doing quality control analyses while brewers get a nearby and affordable testing facility. The work will be performed at the school’s new Quality Assurance/Quality Control and Research Laboratory, which started with a $488,514, three-year seed grant from the Maine Economic Improvement Fund. The Maine Brewers’ Guild will help provide oversight and guidance of the lab through an advisory board. Read the story

 REAL ESTATE: Prices, volume of home sales increase in January

January home sales in Maine increased in both volume and median price over the same period last year, beating national trends. Maine Listings, a subsidiary of the Maine Association of Realtors, calculated a 13.5 percent rise in sales last month compared with January 2015, increasing from 783 sales to 889. The median sale price reached $175,500, an increase of 9.7 percent, according to a Maine Listings news release. The median sale price indicates that half of the homes were sold for more and half sold for less. Sales activity statewide for the three-month period ending Jan. 31 was up 17.5 percent from the same period a year earlier to 3,338 sales, and the median sale price was up 2.3 percent to $177,500. Read the story

GOVERNMENT: Increased efficiency and accountability sought for incentive programs

State lawmakers are taking aim at Maine’s economic development initiatives to address criticism of the programs and improve their effectiveness. A state-sponsored report issued this month says that while economic development programs in Maine have helped many businesses, they often are regarded as confusing and difficult to find and use. It goes on to say that many businesses don’t trust the programs to make good on their promises because of the state’s political turmoil. George Gervais, commissioner of economic and community development, says the LePage administration is seeking ways to simplify the application process for economic programs in a way that doesn’t hinder government accountability and the vetting of applicants. The 250-page report, conducted by Boston-based Investment Consulting Associates for the state Department of Economic and Community Development, says economic development programs that provide help and incentives to businesses are crucial to Maine’s efforts to attract and grow companies. A public comment session was scheduled for Friday morning in Augusta to get feedback on a nine-point plan to fix the problems mentioned in the report. Read the story

HEALTH CARE: Medical tourism project lining up patients

Patients from China seeking care in Maine will begin arriving well ahead of the completion of a $50 million medical tourism project in Auburn, a spokesman for the project said Thursday. The plan to convert a former shoe factory on Minot Avenue into at least 100 upscale, post-surgical units for patients from China is moving ahead. More than 60 people from China already have visited the city – some as potential investors and others as prospective patients – as the effort gains momentum. Backers of the project are looking for interim accommodations for prospective patients who are expected to receive medical treatments from Central Maine Medical Center while the renovation of the old shoe factory is underway. Architects are drawing up plans for the complex, which is expected to be fully operational in about two years. Read the story

 Central Maine Healthcare CEO retiring

Peter E. Chalke, who has served as the president and CEO of Central Maine Healthcare since 2001, has announced that he will retire in the summer of 2016 after over three decades of service to the organization. Central Maine Healthcare is the parent company to numerous health care institutions in central Maine, including Central Maine Medical Center in Lewiston, Bridgton Hospital, Rumford Hospital and the Central Maine Medical Group, a network of over 400 health care providers. Read the story