ENERGY

Madison solar farm coming online

The state’s largest solar farm is expected to be operational by week’s end. The solar energy project in the Madison Business Gateway is more than twice the size of any other in Maine and was constructed by Ohio-based ISG Energy over the summer and fall. It was originally expected to be up and running by Thanksgiving, but the permitting process took longer than expected and construction ran behind. The farm will produce nearly 5 megawatts of electricity and Madison Electric Works is expected to buy all of it. ISG was awarded the contract to build and own the solar farm last spring. Madison Electric signed a 26-year agreement to purchase the electricity produced at a fixed rate of 7.99 cents per kilowatt. After six years, the utility will have the right to purchase the farm at an estimated cost of about $6 million. The farm will supply power to about 20 percent of the district’s customers overall, but on a sunny day it will meet the needs of 100 percent of the utility’s customers – about 3,000 homes and small businesses, excluding Backyard Farms. Read the story.

Rural areas seek answers from wind developers

Dozens of sparsely populated areas across Maine have won special protections that could pose a hurdle to companies looking to build wind power turbines in some of the state’s windiest areas. The designations come years after Maine under Democratic Gov. John Baldacci set an ambitious target of 3,000 megawatts of wind energy by 2030. To reach that target and promote job creation, lawmakers accelerated the permitting process for wind projects statewide. About 40 communities in unorganized townships took advantage of a one-time offer this year to seek permission to force companies to explain why wind turbines should be allowed at a specific site. So far, 27 communities have won permission while 13 more will get the OK once the state files the paperwork. Wind companies that want to build in those communities would have to go through a rezoning process – which can include a public hearing – in addition to the state’s yearslong permitting process. A state commission plans to decide the last petition, by Carroll Plantation, in February. Read the story.

Biomass companies get state aid

State regulators have formally approved $13.4 million in contracts to bail out struggling biomass companies in Aroostook, Penobscot and Washington counties. The Maine Legislature this year passed a law to supplement the prices that the companies get for selling electricity on the regional grid for up to two years. The $13.4 million comes from Maine’s general fund. The Maine Public Utilities Commission approved contracts for Re-Energy Holdings’ biomass plants in Ashland and Fort Fairfield and shuttered West Enfield and Jonesboro biomass plants that were bought by the French subsidiary Stored Solar. Read the story.

Gas prices continue to increase

The average retail price of gas has risen 3.2 cents in Maine over the past week. GasBuddy’s daily survey of 1,228 gas outlets in the state says the average price is $2.34 on Tuesday. The national average has also gone up. It is now $2.28, having risen 2.7 cents in the last week. Maine’s average gas price was 26 cents per gallon higher than the same time a year ago and 13.3 cents higher than a month ago. Read the story.

RESEARCH & DEVELOPMENT

Scientist who led Boothbay lab’s expansion dies

Ocean Graham Shimmield, a scientist who led Maine’s Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences during a time of transformation at the institution, died Dec. 24 after a battle with cancer. Shimmield, 58, had served as executive director of the East Boothbay research lab for nearly nine years and oversaw a dramatic expansion of both Bigelow’s facility and mission. During Shimmield’s tenure, Bigelow built a $32 million, 60,000-square-foot research and education “campus” on a waterfront parcel, significantly expanded the lab’s scientific staff and research faculty, and invested heavily in helping turn research into economic opportunities. A resident of Newcastle, Shimmield died in his native United Kingdom on Saturday from complications related to colon cancer. He had gone back to Britain, as required, to renew the visa allowing him to live and work in the U.S. Read the story.

COMMERCIAL FISHERIES

New kelp grower gets license off Chebeague

The waters off Chebeague Island will be even greener than usual this winter. Shearwater Ventures is moving in, joining another company, Portland-based Ocean Approved, in growing and harvesting seaweed in Casco Bay. Nathan Johnson, who started Shearwater last year, just signed a state lease on nearly 4 acres of seabed. Johnson intends to grow sugar kelp, his foray into the $5 billion worldwide kelp industry. Johnson intends to sell his harvest to Ocean Approved, which has been growing and selling kelp since 2009. Read the story.

CONSTRUCTION

Subsidies push plans for 380 affordable housing units forward

Plans to create nearly 400 new units of affordable housing in Maine will move ahead after receiving crucial financial support from a federal bank last week. The Federal Home Loan Bank of Boston will play a pivotal role in the development of much-needed affordable housing in 2017, providing $17.5 million in subsidies for 13 projects in Maine to build or renovate more than 380 rental units, according to a release from the bank. The $17.5 million allocation is part of the Boston bank’s ongoing mission to create low-cost housing in New England. In all, the bank said 45 projects throughout the region would receive $56.4 million in grants, loans and interest-rate subsidies through its 2016 Affordable Housing Program allocation. Those funds will be used to finance 1,100 units of affordable rental and ownership housing for families earning no more than 80 percent of the local median income. Read the story.

Portland farm slated for subdivision

A 45-acre farm in Portland’s Stroudwater neighborhood is under contract to a group of Maine investors called Camelot Holdings who want to build 96 single-family homes on the parcel. The group is not disclosing the sale price for the Camelot Farm property at 1700 Westbrook St. It was listed for $2.4 million. Located on Portland’s western edge near the Maine Turnpike, the Camelot property is considered the largest undeveloped residential lot in the city. It currently features a sprawling, single-story ranch house – built by Peter and Mary Rogers in 1961 to accommodate their 11 children – and 45 acres of hilly pasture land plus 1,500 feet of frontage along the Stroudwater River. The group is seeking a zoning change for a smaller ,minimum lot size that would allow Camelot Holdings to build the homes clustered on smaller lots away from the river and flood plain while maintaining green space. Read the story.

Cianbro gets new defense contract

Pittsfield contractor Cianbro has won a $27 million contract to perform work and dock repairs at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in Kittery. The award was announced jointly by U.S. Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King. This $26,969,000 contract will support replacement of the caisson at PNSY’s dry dock number No. 3. The work will also provide repairs to the concrete entrance structures of the dry dock, and is expected to be completed by May 2019. Read the story.

REAL ESTATE

Home sales increase in volume and price

Maine home sales jumped and prices shot up as well in November. The Maine Real Estate Information System reported that 1,414 homes changed hands that month, an increase of 17.74 percent over the 1,201 homes that sold in November 2015. Prices were up as well, to a statewide median of $191,863, compared to $180,000 in November 2015. That’s an increase of 6.59 percent. Both indicators are in line with regional and national trends, showing strong residential sales closing out 2016. The strength of the housing market varied around the state. Three counties – Waldo, Cumberland, and Washington – reported a decline in the number of sales during the September to November quarter, compared to the same three months in 2015. In Waldo, and Cumberland counties, the declines were modest at 0.69 percent and 1.01 percent, respectively, but in Washington County, the decline was sharper, at 8.5 percent. But in raw numbers, rather than percentages, that was a minor reduction, reflecting a decline from 105 homes sold in during the quarter last year compared to 96 sold during the same three months this year. Nationally, existing homes jumped 16.2 percent since last November. The National Association of Realtors also reported a 6.8 percent rise of the national median sales price to $236,500. The Northeast region experienced a 15.7 percent increase in sales while the median price was up 3.3 percent to $263,000. Read the story.