ENERGY

CMP loses bid for massive Massachusetts power contract

Massachusetts officials Thursday selected a controversial New Hampshire transmission line project to deliver renewable energy to the state, passing over several competing proposals, including a major new transmission line from Canada offered by Central Maine Power. The Northern Pass project that received preliminary approval involves 192 miles of transmission lines to carry power from hydroelectric dams in Quebec to Massachusetts. Eversource’s Northern Pass project was selected over a roughly $1 billion proposal from Central Maine Power to build 145 miles of transmission lines that also would carry electricity from Hydro-Quebec facilities to the Bay State. Besides the CMP-Hydro-Quebec project, the competition for a slice of Massachusetts’ growing renewable energy demand attracted several wind- and solar-energy proposals from Maine, including two massive wind power proposals in Aroostook County, smaller projects in western Maine and a large solar array. None of them made the cut. CMP spokesman John Carroll said the utility was disappointed in the decision, but that CMP and its parent company intend to keep its New England Clean Energy Connect project moving forward. Read the story.

LePage imposes moratorium on new wind permits

Gov. Paul LePage imposed a moratorium Wednesday on new wind energy projects in western and coastal Maine while establishing a secretive commission to study how wind turbines affect the state’s tourism economy. LePage, a longtime critic of wind energy, issued an executive order prohibiting state agencies from issuing permits “related to wind turbines” in western and coastal Maine, on coastal islands and along “significant avian migratory pathways.” The moratorium would remain in place until a new Maine Wind Energy Advisory Commission – which will have meetings that are closed to the public and not subject to Maine’s Freedom of Access Act – reports on wind power’s economic impact and recommends potential regulatory changes. Several industry representatives questioned the legality of the action, even predicting a court challenge from landowners if the governor persists with the plan. Read the story.

TRANSPORTATION

Elite to offer new nonstop flight to Florida

Elite Airways will offer another nonstop flight from Portland to Florida starting in May, expanding the Maine-based company’s vacation destinations. Elite will start Sunday flights from the Portland International Jetport to Vero Beach, on Florida’s east coast, on May 6 and offer a Thursday flight in early June, according to a company statement Thursday. Elite started a nonstop flight from Portland to Melbourne International Airport in Florida in 2015 and added Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport a year later. The flights are aimed at leisure and vacation travelers who want nonstop flights to Florida for a weekend or weeklong trip, the company said. Early-bird fares will start at $199 each way. Read the story.

Amtrak service to Rockland ready to test

Proposed weekend summer passenger rail service to Rockland is an initial effort to “test the waters” for the demand for train ridership, the head of the regional rail authority told about 70 people at a meeting Wednesday night. The proposed pilot project was welcomed by nearly all those who attended the forum by the Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority. On Saturdays and Sundays, the train would leave Rockland at 10 a.m. and arrive in Boston at 3:30 p.m. A train also would leave Boston at 9:45 a.m. both Saturday and Sunday and arrive in Rockland at 3:10 p.m. The train would then return to Boston, leaving Rockland at 4 p.m. and arriving in Boston at 9:30 p.m. Read the story.

REAL ESTATE AND CONSTRUCTION

Streak of single-family home sales continues

Maine’s home sales activity continued to set records in 2017 despite flat or declining sales in the hottest markets of York and Cumberland counties. For the third consecutive year, Maine set a statewide record for home sales volume in 2017 with 17,633 existing single-family homes sold, an increase of 0.7 percent from 2016, according to Maine Listings data released Wednesday. The evidence that limited inventory in southern Maine curtailed what could have been an even bigger sales year can be found in the data for York and Cumberland counties. Sales volume in York County remained practically unchanged from 2016, and home sales actually declined by 3.7 percent in Cumberland County, according to Maine Listings. Strong buyer demand in southern Maine helped push the state’s median home price up 5.6 percent to $200,000 in 2017, compared with $189,400 a year earlier. Read the story.

FINANCING & INVESTMENT

Center to attract foreign investment preparing for rollout

The state is moving forward with development of a regional center to connect foreign investors to projects in Maine, such as a $40 million Chinese medical tourism facility proposed for Auburn. Under the federal EB-5 visa program, foreign investors, their spouses and unmarried children under 21 get visas to live in the U.S. and, eventually, green cards for permanent residency if they make the necessary investment in a commercial enterprise. An investment project also has to create or preserve 10 permanent full-time jobs for qualified U.S. workers. The minimum qualifying investment is $1 million, but can be as low as $500,000 within a high-unemployment or rural area in the U.S. Approval for the program came in September, but the state is establishing policies and procedures for the new center before it becomes operational. Read the story.

MARIJUANA

Committee seeks moratorium on new medical pot rules

The legislative committee that oversees Maine’s medical marijuana program wants to suspend controversial new rules cracking down on caregivers. The state Department of Health and Human Services finalized the rules last year and is scheduled to implement them on Feb. 1, but the Legislature’s Health and Human Services Committee wants to put those rules on hold while it considers new legislation that may nullify some or all of them. On Thursday, the committee voted 12-0 in favor of a bill that would delay implementation until July, which is when bills drafted this session would go into effect. The full Legislature could vote on the medical rules moratorium bill as early as Tuesday, but even if it sailed through both houses, it would still require approval from Gov. Paul LePage before it goes into effect. Read the story.

HOSPITALITY

South Portland moves to ban ‘unhosted’ short-term rentals

The South Portland City Council took steps Wednesday night to ban controversial “unhosted” short-term rentals in all residential zones and set up a licensing scheme to regulate and greatly limit “hosted stays.” Under the proposed ordinance, a homeowner could host Airbnb or HomeAway guests in his or her primary residence for periods less than 30 days. Many of the nearly 300 short-term rentals operating in the city would be illegal under the proposal because they are owned by people who don’t live on the premises. Homeowners could rent out only one room or accessory apartment and could host a maximum of two adult guests, mirroring an existing ordinance that allows “home occupations.” The council is expected to vote on a first reading of the proposal on Feb. 6. Read the story.

EDUCATION

HVAC training center to double capacity

The $250,000 expansion of a technical trade center that specializes in HVAC training will double the number of students the school can handle once the project is completed in April. The center, which was established roughly 10 years ago and is funded in part by energy companies, gives students a three-month intensive course in an HVAC Professional Certification program. The expansion of the Maine Energy Marketers Association’s Technical Education Center comes at a time when demand for HVAC professionals is high, and memories of extreme cold temperatures and technicians working long hours are fresh. Currently, the school in Brunswick can only accommodate 21 students at a time, and typically each three-month course on heating, ventilation and air conditioning is full. The expansion will double the student capacity, allowing two programs to be taught at once. Read the story.

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