ENERGY

Maine searches for opportunities in offshore wind power

Gov. Paul LePage’s opposition to the cost of renewable energy has stalled Maine’s chances of developing an offshore wind power industry. But this month, his acting energy director went to England to learn about the economic development and government policies around offshore wind that are creating thousands of jobs and attracting billions of dollars in investment. Angela Monroe said that while offshore wind would still be more expensive than other energy sources for Maine, wind farms planned off the coast of Massachusetts, New York, Rhode Island and other states could hold promise for Maine companies. Monroe was the second Maine official to take the trip in the past six months. Bruce Williamson, one of Maine’s three Public Utilities Commission members, went last fall after Patrick Woodcock, the governor’s former energy director, was unable to attend. Monroe was part of a nine-member American delegation that visited Hull, England, in early March. The city includes an area along the Humber River branded as the Humber Energy Estuary. The trip was paid for by the British Embassy in Washington, D.C., and co-sponsored by the Team Humber Marine Alliance, a 200-member group of businesses that include shipping, manufacturing and ocean services. Read the story.

Advocates petition PUC to reconsider solar incentives

A coalition of organizations and businesses is petitioning the Maine Public Utilities Commission to reconsider a recent decision on solar energy billing even as they gear up for a potential court challenge. In a formal request filed Tuesday with the PUC, the petitioners argued the commissioners failed to take into account the broader interests of electricity ratepayers when they voted in January to change the compensation system for solar energy users. Instead, the petitioners said the PUC decision to gradually reduce the financial incentives offered to homeowners who install solar energy systems “are more likely to raise unnecessarily electricity costs for Maine ratepayers without any countervailing benefits.” Opponents of the PUC decision on net energy billing – or “net metering” – are pursuing a three-pronged approach to overturn a rule that they say will hurt Maine’s small but growing solar industry. Read the story.

REAL ESTATE & CONSTRUCTION

Volume of home sales dips in February

The value of Maine real estate continued to increase in February despite a sharp decline in sales, according to the Maine Association of Realtors. The association reported a 12.5 percent jump in the median sale price for existing, detached single-family homes in February compared with a year earlier, bringing the statewide median price to $180,000. The median indicates that half of the homes were sold for more and half sold for less. However, homes sales volume declined by 12.9 percent statewide. Bad weather was a major factor, association President Greg Gosselin said. The association tracks changes in home sales volume and median price on a rolling, three-month basis for Maine and its individual counties. Statewide, sales volume was up 3.1 percent from the previous year for the three-month period ending Feb. 28. The median price for the period was $185,000 – up 7.8 percent from a year earlier. Read the story.

COMMERCIAL FISHERIES

Turbulent season in northern Gulf of Maine scallop fishery ends

Large fishing boats drag for scallops last week in the Gulf of Maine. Maine’s small boat fishermen scrambled in bad weather this season to reach their quota so the scallop grounds would be closed to the larger boats, which have no quotas under federal fishing rules. Large fishing boats drag for scallops last week in the Gulf of Maine. Maine’s small boat fishermen scrambled in bad weather this season to reach their quota so the scallop grounds would be closed to the larger boats, which have no quotas under federal fishing rules.

Fisheries regulators announced the closure Wednesday after small-boat fishermen – many of them Maine lobstermen operating 40- to 45-foot boats – met their annual quota of 70,000 pounds. This year’s federal harvest has been contentious because the large, full-time boats are believed to have caught more than 1 million pounds of scallops in the northern Gulf of Maine scallop fishing area, but owing to a quirk in federal rules the fishery could not be closed until the small vessels caught 70,000 pounds. This month’s storms and unseasonable weather had kept the small boats in port, delaying their ability to meet their annual quota and close the area to the larger vessels, who were permitted to continue harvesting large quantities of scallops under federal rules. Read the story.

Court rules rockweed harvesters need landowner’s permission

A Superior Court judge has ruled against a Canadian rockweed harvesting company in a civil case, saying that harvesters need to obtain a landowner’s permission before they can remove the seaweed growing on private intertidal property. The March 16 ruling by Justice Harold Stewart II, which could affect an growingexpanding industry in the state, applies to the entire coast of Maine and concludes that rockweed growing in the intertidal zone is privately owned property and is not owned by the state in trust for the public. The Maine Department of Marine Resources and other opponents say the court’s decision will harm the $20 million rockweed harvesting industry and is almost certain to be appealed to the Maine Supreme Judicial Court. Read the story.

LABOR

Employers head to Boston to recruit workers

A busload of Maine entrepreneurs and other businesspeople set off for Boston on Thursday afternoon, prospecting for new hires. The group of 50 was scheduled to meet with about 150 Boston-area workers Thursday night to talk up business and Maine’s amenities over Maine-brewed beer and Maine-sourced food, said Nate Wildes, director of Live + Work in Maine, a group that promotes the state to job seekers. It was the latest attempt by Maine employers frustrated by their inability to fill job vacancies, particularly for skilled workers, such as those with technical skills or college degrees. With its workforce getting older and several key industries, such as papermaking, shrinking, Maine’s labor force is in decline. The number of people either working or looking for work in Maine has shrunk from nearly 710,000 in mid-2013 to just over 690,000 in 2016. With Maine’s unemployment rate at a low 3.9 percent last year, growing companies are finding it difficult to hire workers. Read the story.

Jobless rate continues slide

Maine’s February unemployment rate of 3.2 percent is the lowest since December 2000. The most recent jobless rate was released Friday by the Maine Department of Labor. It shows that the preliminary seasonally adjusted unemployment rate of 3.2 percent was down from 3.5 percent in January and 3.7 percent one year ago. The report said the rate was below 4 percent in 13 of the last 16 months, only the third time there’s been such a run in the last 40 years. Read the story.

MANUFACTURING

Gorham company lands $7 million in contracts

Microwave components maker Mega Industries LLC in Gorham has received two new lucrative contracts and is expanding its workforce, the company said Tuesday. The company recently expanded its staff by 20 percent and is looking to increase by another 20 percent, it said. Mega Industries just received a $5 million contract from Sweden-based European Spallation Source and a $2 million contract from Menlo Park, California-based Stanford Linear Accelerator Laboratory. The company manufactures high-power microwave transmission equipment for research and commercial uses. It achieved record revenue in 2016, up more than 32 percent from the previous year, according to a news release. Read the story.