Largest battery in Northeast installed at Wyman Station

New England’s largest battery project – the size of eight shipping containers – is set to begin operating in the next week or so at the Wyman Station power plant in Yarmouth. The project is part of an industry-wide trend to use battery storage to moderate power supply to the grid, which could lower electricity prices for consumers. It also is intended to backstop the intermittent power generated by wind and solar, which are affected by the weather. NextEra Energy Resources, Wyman Station’s lead owner and operator, has installed 1,300 lithium ion modules – a giant lithium battery – in a warehouse at the oil-fired power plant. The project is designed to offer the region’s grid operator, ISO-New England, a more cost-effective way to help regulate daily changes in supply and demand than calling on large gas-fired power plants. The battery project at Wyman Station is rated at 16.2 megawatts. By comparison, ISO-New England needs between 30 and 100 megawatts of variable power on a typical day to regulate the system. Read the story.

New Jersey firm buys fifth Maine hydro plant

A power company in Morristown, New Jersey, has purchased a hydroelectric facility in Lisbon Falls that operates at the site of a former woolen mill. Eagle Creek Renewable Energy LLC acquired Brown Bear II Hydro Holdings LLC, which owns the Worumbo hydroelectric facility, on Nov. 29, according to a news release from Eagle Creek. The purchase price was not disclosed. Worumbo is a 19-megawatt hydroelectric generator on the Androscoggin River that produces enough electricity to power about 12,500 homes. The facility will continue to supply electricity under a power purchase agreement. In January, Eagle Creek purchased four hydroelectric generators connected to the Verso paper mill in Jay for $62 million. Those facilities are also on the Androscoggin River. Read the story.


City delays action on short-term rentals

Portland City Council’s Housing Committee has delayed recommending regulations on short-term rentals to the full council until it has clarified issues raised at its meeting Wednesday. Committee Chairwoman Jill Duson said at the beginning of the meeting that she would consider sending the council three options for regulating rentals such as those provided through the Airbnb website. But after two hours of deliberation and testimony from the public, Duson conceded the committee had more work to do.

The city has been working on rules for short-term rentals since summer. Some housing advocates are concerned the rentals take full-time housing off the market, drive up prices and change neighborhood character. Short-term hosts argue their properties give visitors extra lodging options and bring tourism dollars into the city. Another committee member said the body would need at least one more meeting, and maybe two, before being able to make a clear recommendation to the council. Read the story.

Plans for Congress Square Park aired

A conceptual design for Congress Square Park and the surrounding intersection showed sloping levels, a performance stage facing traffic and a plaza in front of the Portland Museum of Art that would eliminate the cut-through from High Street to Free Street. Designers from Philadephia-based WRT unveiled the plans at a public forum Thursday at the Westin hotel, next to the park at the corner of High and Congress streets. Nearly 100 people attended the meeting, many of whom asked questions and offered feedback the designers said they would take into consideration as they solidify the plan. The effort to remake Congress Square grew out of a controversial move by the City Council in 2013 to sell a portion of Congress Square Park to an out-of-state developer looking to building an event center. The proposed sale prompted residents to organize, protest and ultimately overturn the sale through a citywide referendum that also added protections to all of the city’s parks. WRT designers did not have estimates of the cost or time frame for implementing the plan, which would rely on fundraising. Read the story.


Workers’ comp innovator to retire

John Leonard plans to retire after nearly a quarter century of leading The MEMIC Group, the company credited with helping reduce Maine worker injuries by the thousands while saving the state’s employers millions of dollars. The company has been instrumental in significantly reducing workplace injuries and their associated costs in Maine. MEMIC was established in 1992 by state statute as the guaranteed market for workers’ compensation to stabilize a dysfunctional workers’ comp market that threatened to paralyze the state’s economy. Under Leonard’s leadership, by 1998 the company had managed to reduce lost-time injuries of Maine workers by 30 percent and lowered workers’ comp insurance costs by 40 percent. MEMIC has become a model for other states, with its focus on requiring employers to meet strict safety standards to reduce costs and keep worker injuries at a minimum. Leonard plans to step down in September 2017. Read the story.


Consolidation plan prompts pushback against MaineHealth

MaineHealth’s tentative plan to consolidate and streamline operations within the state’s largest health care network is running into opposition from health care organizations operating under its umbrella. The proposal would merge a dozen affiliated health systems into one nonprofit MaineHealth entity. MaineHealth officials say it would be a fairer and more efficient way to manage the health systems, but critics liken it to a power grab. The proposal – to be rolled out over the next several months – would unify 12 separate nonprofits into one 18,000-employee nonprofit organization, with one board that would make final decisions for the entire system. Objections have been raised from the boards of several organizations and practice groups. MaineHealth is the parent company of Maine Medical Center and 11 other hospitals and health care networks, including Franklin Community Health Network, Western Maine Health, Maine Behavioral Healthcare, Memorial Hospital in New Hampshire and Southern Maine Health Care. Read the story.


Eventide Oysters heading to Boston

After garnering national attention and accolades for its oysters and its brown butter lobster roll, Portland’s Eventide Oyster Co. is planning to expand to Boston. The new Eventide is planned for a space on Boylston Street in Boston’s Fenway neighborhood. Mike Wiley, one of the three owners, said Monday that long lines at the Middle Street restaurant are the main reason for expanding. The owners picked Boston, he said, partly because they have friends there and because of Boston’s larger, more steady customer base. A statement from the firm said Wiley and his co-owners, known as Big Tree Hospitality, are “actively involved in securing space for a new restaurant concept at 1321 Boylston Street in Boston.” Read the story.


New state OT rules to take effect

State officials are giving employers in Maine until Jan. 7 to comply with a new overtime pay standard resulting from the state’s increased minimum wage. The state standard is different from the new federal standard, which has been delayed by a court challenge. Maine’s overtime pay requirement, set by state statute, says qualifying salaried employees cannot be exempted from receiving overtime pay unless their annual salary exceeds 3,000 times the state’s hourly minimum wage. At the current minimum wage of $7.50 an hour, that threshold is $22,500 a year. However, Maine voters approved a statewide minimum wage increase on Nov. 8 that takes effect Jan. 1, when the minimum wage will be increased to $9 an hour. As a result, the annual salary threshold for overtime pay exemption in Maine will increase to $27,000 in January. That means certain salaried employees must be paid 1.5 times their regular pay for work over 40 hours a week if their salaries fall below the new threshold. Read the story.

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