ENERGY

PUC commissioners delay decision on solar incentives

A much-anticipated decision by Maine’s utility regulators on the status of incentives for solar homeowners has been delayed into the new year. The state Public Utilities Commission had intended to make a decision regarding incentives that help homeowners recoup the installation costs of solar-panel roofs by the end of the year. The commission held a public hearing on the matter in October and received hundreds of written comments in its wake. PUC Chairman Mark Vannoy said the commission needed more time to consider its rules to ensure all ratepayers are treated fairly. Until a final rule is issued, the existing rules remain in place. Read the story.

AGRICULTURE

Grain alliance receives grant to enhance processing

The Skowhegan-based Maine Grain Alliance got a boost this week with the announcement of a $50,000 grant from the Maine Technology Institute. The award will be used to study grain drying and storage systems on farms in Aroostook County where 90 percent of the grains processed at the Somerset Grist Mill in Skowhegan are produced, said Amber Lambke co-founder of the nonprofit Maine Grain Alliance and owner of the grist mill and Maine Grains, a specialty grocery store at the grist mill. The institute made the award through its Cluster Initiative Program, which supports Maine’s agriculture, aquaculture, fisheries and food production and Maine’s composites and advanced materials clusters. The money comes with a 1:1 match from the recipient, either in cash or in-kind time or services. The Maine Grain Alliance, founded in 2007 with the first Kneading Conference, received the award for a feasibility and planning project to inventory existing grain drying and storage and to research technologies and financing options to improve the process. Read the story.

Biddeford moratorium on pot businesses passes first council vote

The Biddeford City Council on Tuesday gave initial approval for a 180-day moratorium on recreational marijuana businesses in the city. Biddeford joins a growing number of communities across the state that have implemented or considered temporary bans on such businesses. Officials say they need time to look at land-use regulations and decide where in the city retail stores, social clubs and cultivation businesses would be allowed. The council is scheduled to take a second and final vote on the moratorium Jan. 3. Councilors Michael Swanton, Robert Quattrone and Bob Mills opposed the moratorium, which passed by a 6-3 vote. Recreational marijuana use, which state voters approved by a margin of 3,995 votes, includes provisions that the bill’s authors say are intended to allow strong local control. Read the story.

INSURANCE

New locator service helps people find lost benefits

Maine consumers who need to look for a deceased person’s lost life insurance policies or annuities will have an easier time now that Maine is part of a national locator service. The Maine Bureau of Insurance and the National Association of Insurance Commissioners have launched a service that allows someone to search nationally for a deceased person’s lost benefits. The bureau had launched a locator service earlier this year, but is merging with the NAIC’s new national Life Insurance Policy Locator, which can be accessed on the NAIC’s website, www.naic.org, or from the bureau’s website, www.maine.gov/insurance. The coordinated effort will better assist people with finding life insurance policies and annuities, estimated by Consumer Reports to equal $1 billion in unclaimed benefits, according to a release from the bureau. Read the story.

Cioppa appointed to national post

The head of Maine’s Bureau of Insurance has been named to an executive post with a national trade association. Insurance Superintendent Eric Cioppa has been elected vice president of the National Association of Insurance Commissioners for 2017. Cioppa served as the organization’s secretary-treasurer this year, according to a release from the bureau. NAIC regulators establish national standards and best practices, conduct peer reviews and coordinate regulatory oversight. Read the story.

ECONOMY

Maine personal incomes rose slightly in Q3

Personal income in Maine rose by 1.1 percent in the third quarter, matching the national increase in income. According to figures released Tuesday morning by the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, Maine’s personal income growth was 25th among the 50 states. The growth in the state’s personal income was led by net earnings, which grew by 1.5 percent in the July-September quarter compared to the prior quarter. Net earnings includes wages, salaries, bonuses and business owners’ income. Income from dividends, interest and rents grew by 0.5 percent and transfer receipts, which include income from Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, veterans’ benefits and unemployment compensation, also grew by 0.5 percent during the quarter. Personal income in Maine was $59.5 billion during the third quarter, compared with $58.9 billion during the second quarter. Read the story.

BANKING & FINANCE

NBT Bank chooses leader of Maine expansion as new chief executive

Norwich, New York-based NBT Bank has named the man who expanded the bank’s operations into Maine as its new president and CEO. According to NBT, the appointment of John Watt represents the culmination of a succession plan unanimously approved by the bank’s board of directors in May, when Watt was named president of the bank and NBT’s retiring President and CEO Martin Dietrich was elected chairman of the board. At its Dec. 16 meeting, the board also appointed Watt to serve as a director. Watt joined NBT in 2014 to lead the bank’s expansion into Maine and establish a regional headquarters in Portland. He assembled a team of local bankers now headed by Regional President Kim Twitchell and was then tapped to provide executive leadership for a number of key areas at NBT, including the bank’s commercial and consumer lending, credit administration and marketing divisions. Read the story.

LABOR

Portland amends city minimum wage rule

The Portland City Council has amended the minimum wage ordinance it passed last year to bring employers’ payments to tipped workers in line with a new state law, but with so much on the line for Portland’s booming restaurant industry, the issue is far from being resolved. The new state law, approved by voters Nov. 8, raises Maine’s hourly minimum wage from the current $7.50 to $12 by 2020, and the minimum employer-paid cash wage for workers who rely on tips from the current $3.75 to $12 by 2024. The increase will occur incrementally, starting with a $9 minimum wage and $5 minimum employer-paid cash wage for tipped workers in 2017. The tipped employee’s hourly wages and tips over a single pay period must add up to an average of at least $9 an hour, or the employer has to pay more to bring it up to that amount. In July 2015, the Portland City Council increased the city’s minimum wage from $7.50 to $10.10 in 2016 and $10.68 in 2017. Initially, the council also raised the minimum employer-paid cash wage for tipped workers to nearly $7 an hour by 2017, but it quickly reversed that decision and set the employer-paid minimum back to the state minimum of $3.75. On Monday, the Portland council amended the ordinance again to raise the city’s minimum employer-paid cash wage for tipped workers to $5 an hour in 2017, identical to the new state minimum. It did so by stating that the “tip credit” – the amount employers are allowed to subtract from the hourly minimum wage for tipped workers – would permanently match whatever amount was set by the state. Read the story.