ENERGY: Declining oil prices bode well for winter budgets

Mainers are likely to spend hundreds of millions of dollars less to keep their homes warm this winter compared with recent years, thanks to plummeting oil prices and declining or stable prices for other fuels.

The statewide average price for home heating oil in Maine has fallen below $2 a gallon, the lowest it has been since 2004, according to a survey released Wednesday by the Governor’s Energy Office. Some dealers are offering cash prices below $1.70 a gallon, the survey found.

As the heating season begins, prices for other fuels such as natural gas, propane and wood products also appear to be stable or declining. Read the story.

LEGAL: Portland law firms files class action against VW

The Verrill Dana law firm Thursday filed a class-action lawsuit against Volkswagen over the carmaker’s recent admission that it rigged emissions tests on its “Clean Diesel”vehicles.

The lawsuit against Volkswagen Group of America Inc. was filed on behalf of plaintiffs Sean Mahoney and Ayres Stockly, residents of Falmouth and Cumberland, respectively, and other Maine residents who own Volkswagens installed with software that helps the cars cheat on emissions tests, according to the suit. The suit accuses Volkswagen of fraud, breach of warranty and other violations of federal and state law.

The German carmaker has faced a tidal wave of criticism since the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on Sept. 18 accused the company of intentionally violating federal law by selling vehicles installed with software that allows them to cheat. The company has admitted to the deception, and its CEO resigned amid the scandal.

The illegal software is known to be installed in the diesel engine versions of Volkswagen Jetta, Beetle, Audi A3 and Golf from the 2009-2015 model years, as well as the Passat from the 2012-2015 model years, with 2-liter, four-cylinder Type EA 189 diesel engines, according to the lawsuit. There are 18,747 Volkswagens registered in Maine, of which about 7,000 fall into those model years. It is unknown how many of them are powered by diesel engines. Read the story.

Environmental group drops suit in return for conservation fund

A nonprofit conservation group has agreed to drop a lawsuit against a 56-turbine wind project in exchange for a $2.5 million conservation fund directed to projects across western, central and northern Maine.

SunEdison, a renewable energy development company, and Friends of Maine’s Mountains announced the collaboration in a news release issued late Thursday. The fund was created as one part of an agreement between SunEdison and the FMM since the Bingham project got approval from the Maine Department of Environmental Protection in March.

The first $1.5 million of the fund will be directed to Maine conservation and environmental groups including the Trust for Public Land, Appalachian Mountain Club, Maine Appalachian Trail Land Trust, Forest Society of Maine, the Atlantic Salmon Federation and the Mahoosuc Land Trust. Read the story.

ECONOMY: Cities’ GDPs reflect stagnant economies

Maine’s metropolitan areas continued to lag well behind the rest of the United States in economic output last year, new figures from the federal Bureau of Economic Analysis show.

Portland’s gross domestic product – the value of the metro region’s output of goods and services – was flat last year compared to 2013, the BEA said, while the average for growth in metro areas nationally was 2.3 percent. Maine’s two other metro areas did even worse, with Lewiston-Auburn posting a decline of 0.3 percent and Bangor’s economy contracting 1.1 percent.

Jonathan E. Reisman, an associate professor of economics and public policy at the University of Maine at Machias, said it was particularly troubling because Boston, where the GDP grew by 2.6 percent last year, seems to be in solid shape economically. That means Maine, particularly the southern part of the state, can’t count on Boston’s rising economy helping to pull neighboring regions up.

The three metro areas are defined as York, Cumberland and Sagadahoc counties for the Portland metro area; Androscoggin County for Lewiston; and Penobscot County for Bangor. Read the story.

ENTREPRENEURSHIP: Eight startups chose to pitch AOL co-founder Steve Case

Eight Maine startups will have the chance to pitch before Steve Case, the co-founder of AOL, on Oct. 2 as part of his Rise of the Rest tour.

Case is expected to invest $100,000 in the winner. The companies pitching are: Likeable Local, a software company with offices in Portland and New York City that develops social media platforms for small businesses; Dream Local Digital, a digital marketing agency based in Rockland; Rapport, a Portland-based company developing software to allow small- and medium-sized businesses track and measure their sustainability; CourseStorm, which is based in Orono and develops course-registration software for education organizations; Spring Point Solutions, a Portland-based company developing software for motor repair shops; iKNO Intranet, which is based in Portland and is developing software to allow companies to improve internal and customer engagement; Introspective Systems, a Portland-based software company targeting any industry struggling with big-data challenges; and Lobster Unlimited, a company out of the University of Maine that aims to develop products from lobster-processing industry waste, such as shells. Read the story.

MANUFACTURING: Local manufacturers involved in papal visit preparations

Anticipating Pope Francis’ celebration of Mass on Saturday, the Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul in Philadelphia installed speakers made by Brunswick-based Terra Speakers to upgrade its sound system.

The 15-year-old speaker manufacturer’s network of custom dealers has installed Terra’s hand-built indoor and outdoor speakers across the country in high-end homes and commercial properties, primarily faith-based properties, according to James Banfield, a company co-founder.

A custom dealer installed nearly three dozen of Terra’s speakers throughout the Philadelphia basilica a few weeks ago. Terra Speakers isn’t the only Maine manufacturer involved in the pope’s visit to the United States.

Auburn-based furniture maker Thos. Moser will provide custom-made armchairs for the pope and four cardinals during a stop at Independence Hall on Saturday and then again when the Pope Francis says goodbye at the airport. Read the story.

Verso booted from New York Stock Exchange

Verso Corp. was delisted from the New York Stock Exchange because of a precipitous decline in the value of its stock.

The NYSE notified the company in June that its stock was not meeting the exchange’s standard requiring the average share price of Verso’s common stock be at least $1.00 over a consecutive 30-trading-day period. At the time of the June 24 notification, the average closing price of Verso’s common stock over the past 30 trading days was 96 cents per share. The stock exchange asked the company to submit a plan to bring its stock back into compliance.

Verso submitted that plan Monday morning, but the stock continued to fall throughout the day. By the close of markets on Wednesday, it was trading at 3 cents a share. Read the story.

REAL ESTATE and DEVELOPMENT: Propane terminal tries again for South Portland locale

A liquid propane company on Commercial Street in Portland is trying again to relocate its operation to a South Portland rail yard. NGL Supply Terminal Co. LLC on Tuesday submitted a new downsized site plan to the city of South Portland to build a liquid propane depot at Rigby Yard, an industrial rail site off Route 1.

A previous plan did not conform to city ordinances. The move is necessitated by the state’s desire to expand the International Marine Terminal in Portland by building a cold-storage facility. The land proposed for the refrigerated warehouse is now occupied by NGL. Read the story.