ENERGY: Maine companies pitch delivery of clean energy to southern New England

Central Maine Power and Emera Maine announced Thursday that the two companies have submitted a joint proposal to deliver enough clean energy to power at least a quarter-million homes in Connecticut, Massachusetts and Rhode Island. The proposal, called the Maine Renewable Energy Interconnect, would provide up to 1,200 megawatts of renewable energy from wind energy projects in northern Maine that are already in the planning and development phase. The project includes investments in the region’s bulk power system to add about 150 miles of new line, new substations and other improvements. The improvements would be paid for by utility customers in the states that issued the request for proposals in November. Using existing rights-of-way for much of the pathway would minimize environmental impacts, according to the plan proponents. Read the story

Heating fuel prices reach 2004 levels

The average statewide price for heating oil has fallen to $1.74 a gallon, the lowest price ever recorded since the Governor’s Energy Office began weekly fuel price surveys in 2004. Last week’s average kerosene price is also down 5 cents compared to the previous week’s prices, to $2.33 per gallon, and propane prices have fallen 3 cents, to $2.19 a gallon. The lower prices for refined heating fuels mirror a six-month slide in global prices for crude oil and natural gas. The Governor’s Energy Office estimates that a Maine household that burns 900 gallons of oil in the course of a winter will save almost $1,600 compared to the 2013-14 season, thanks to this year’s low prices. Read the story

MANUFACTURING: Verso paper files for bankruptcy

Once the primary supplier of glossy paper to the likes of Time magazine, Verso Paper Corp. filed for bankruptcy reorganization Tuesday, seeking protection from creditors for a business that has been clobbered by market shifts and changing consumer habits. The company, which operates a mill in Jay that employs about 550 people, filed reorganization papers in Delaware bankruptcy court. Verso is headquartered in Tennessee but incorporated in Delaware. In a written statement, Verso’s CEO said the filing is intended to allow it to restructure its debt, and the bankruptcy will “have virtually no impact on the day-to-day operations of the company.” In the bankruptcy filing, two Maine companies are listed among Verso’s 30 largest creditors. Catalyst Paper Operations Inc. of Rumford is owed $2.2 million and Hartt Transportation Systems Inc. of Bangor is owed $1.2 million. Read the story


Old Town pulp mill sold

Expera Specialty Solutions, the Wisconsin-based paper company that owned the Old Town pulp mill, sold the mill to MFGR LLC on Wednesday. Terms were not disclosed. MFGR was formed by the same four companies, led by CRG Acquisitions, that bought the Lincoln Paper and Tissue mill this past fall. That mill is being dismantled and its equipment is expected to be sold at auction later this year. William J. Firestone, the head of the CRG Acquisitions, said he has fielded expressions of interest from companies interested in buying the Old Town mill, including some that have indicated they would continue to operate it as a pulp mill. Others seem interested in warehouse space, he said, and another operates an aquaculture business. Read the story

More semiconductor work coming to South Portland

Texas Instruments intends to close a manufacturing plant in Greenock, Scotland, and move some of that work to Maine, the company said Wednesday. However, the global semiconductor producer, which employs about 540 workers in South Portland, said it does not plan to create additional jobs at the facility. The company said in a written statement that it could take up to three years to complete the transition, adding that it would not cut any jobs at the Scottish plant sooner than late 2017. Read the story

ECONOMIC INDICATORS: Unemployment level best in nearly 15 years

Employers have ruled the job market for most of the past eight years, but with Maine’s unemployment rate at a 15-year low, job seekers are gaining the upper hand. The changing market is a result of the state’s plummeting unemployment rate, which has dropped to a level not seen since August 2001. The state Department of Labor said Tuesday that the jobless rate in December was 4.0 percent, down from 4.1 percent in November, putting the all-time low of 3.2 percent set in December 2000 within sight. The state rate is comfortably below the national unemployment rate, which was 5 percent in December. Read the story


State revenues strong at midpoint in fiscal year

Six months into the new fiscal year, Maine’s coffers are flush with higher-than-expected receipts from sales taxes and personal income taxes. The state reported Thursday that tax revenues are running about 13.5 percent above revenues received at the same point a year earlier, a nearly $200 million difference. The unexpected boost from retail sales and personal income taxes was more than enough to offset lower revenues from corporate income taxes, which reflected payouts for tax credit programs such as New Markets, and from historic preservation tax credits. According to the Maine Controller’s Office, the state took in 2.1 percent more in revenue during the first six months of the fiscal year than it expected. While it may seem a relatively small percent, it adds up to a lot in dollars and cents: Maine has collected $1.67 billion in taxes and fees since July 1, according to a report from the Department of Administrative and Financial Services, $35 million more than the $1.63 billion it forecast. Maine is doing even better in comparison to the year before, with overall receipts running nearly $200 million, or 13.5 percent, ahead of the July-December period of 2014, when it pulled in $1.47 billion. Read the story

TOURISM: Portland considers licensing of tour operators

A feud between two tour operators on the Portland waterfront has prompted the City Council to consider new rules for the entire industry. The territorial dispute culminated in the summer when a longtime Old Port tour operator took a competitor to court and complained of harassment. That prompted city officials to consider adopting a new set of rules for licensing, safety and dispersal of tour operators. Currently, neither the city nor the state requires tour operators to get special licenses. During a meeting last week, the council was receptive to adding licensing and safety requirements for tour operators, but asked its Economic Development Committee to take another look at possibly prohibiting so-called transient tour operators from setting up near established tour businesses. Read the story

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