ENERGY

CMP customers can expect $6 per month increase

The cost of electricity will hit a 10-year high next month for most customers in southern and central Maine, adding about $6 per month to the average bill. On Monday, the Maine Public Utilities Commission approved new standard offer rates for 2019. These supply rates will rise 14 percent, from 7.9 cents per kilowatt hour to 9 cents, for most home and small-business electricity customers in the area served by Central Maine Power. Total home electricity bills, a combination of supply and distribution charges, for CMP customers currently average about $88 per month. Under the new rates, the average total monthly bill will rise to roughly $94, a 6.8 percent increase. The hike approved Monday will bring power supply rates to their highest level since 2009, when they last hit the 9-cent threshold. Read the story.

Solar power achieved milestone on Thanksgiving

On last month’s historically cold Thanksgiving Day, New England turkeys were being roasted by the sun. For the first time, according to the region’s electric grid operator, thousands of solar panels offset the midmorning peak demand for power from millions of homes and businesses cooking the holiday birds. The renewable energy milestone highlights the growing role of solar energy on the grid and counters lingering myths about the technology not working in cold climates, according to ISO-New England. Weather allowed power from the region’s 150,000 or more solar installations to displace demand normally satisfied by large-scale generators, chiefly nuclear and natural-gas plants. Read the story.

BANKING & FINANCE

Shopping complex gets OK for bond financing

A package worth $16.3 million in low-interest financing has been approved for a shopping center and proposed multi-use complex in Westbrook. Finance Authority of Maine board members voted Thursday in favor of conduit bond financing for Dirigo Center Developers LLC, the Maine affiliate of Massachusetts-based Waterstone Properties Group, which is building a shopping center anchored by a Market Basket on a former quarry. Waterstone still needs to find a buyer for the bonds. Some of the borrowed money will be spent on improvements to several traffic intersections and an Interstate 95 interchange near the development. Read the story.

Tax credits approved to restart pulp mill

The Finance Authority of Maine has approved $12 million in tax credits under the Maine New Markets Capital Investment Program for a Chinese paper company to restart pulp manufacturing operations in the closed Old Town mill. The deal also includes additional financing for Nine Dragons Paper Ltd. for a total investment of $31.8 million, according to a FAME news release issued Thursday. The tax credits will be awarded over the next seven years. Nine Dragons and its U.S. subsidiary, ND Paper, will receive the financing through six community development entities, acting as intermediaries. The companies will use the investment proceeds for various capital improvements, working capital, construction, equipment purchases and other related improvements in order to restart and optimize the pulp manufacturing facility, the release said. Read the story.

TRANSPORTATION

Jetport sets new passenger record

Portland International Jetport has set a new all-time annual record for passengers flying in and out of Portland, said Assistant Airport Director Zachary Sundquist. More than 2 million passengers have used the jetport this year, with 20 days still left in December. The previous record of 1.86 million passengers – set in 2017 – was broken a couple of days ago, Sundquist said Tuesday evening. Portland’s popularity as a destination is driving some of that growth, as well as the offer of more flights to Florida. Low-fare carrier Frontier Airlines, which started service at the jetport in July, is now offering flights to Fort Myers and Tampa three or four days a week, Sundquist said. Read the story.

REAL ESTATE & DEVELOPMENT

City proposes moratorium on waterfront development

Portland City Manager Jon Jennings has proposed a six-month moratorium on waterfront development in an effort to forestall a citizen referendum to block non-marine construction on the city’s piers. If the moratorium is adopted by the City Council, it would pause commercial developments on the water side of Commercial Street in the waterfront central zone. The zone between the Casco Bay Bridge and the Ocean Gateway ferry terminal includes the city’s surviving fishermen and marine businesses. Booming development on both sides of Commercial Street has raised fears the working waterfront will be pushed out by expensive office and hotel projects, including a luxury complex proposed on Fisherman’s Wharf. Read the story.

GENERAL BUSINESS

Shipping company Eimskip to get new North American skipper

The head of Icelandic shipping company Eimskip is resigning from that job to lead the company’s North American division, including its U.S. headquarters in Portland. Gylfi Sigfússon has been Eimskip CEO for 10 years, but will step down from the post at the end of the year and move to the United States, the company said in a news release. Sigfússon ran Eimskip’s American and Canadian operations before he was tapped to restructure the company after the 2008 global financial crisis, which hit Iceland especially hard. The volume and value of shipments by container through the International Marine Terminal in Portland have more than doubled since Eimskip moved its U.S. headquarters to the city in 2013. Sigfússon said he expects to lead further growth in North America. Read the story.

Maine state chamber takes on child poverty

A group that includes the Maine State Chamber of Commerce, schools, charities, and progressive and public health advocacy nonprofits has vowed to work toward cutting child poverty in half in Maine over the next decade. Invest in Tomorrow, which has been meeting for about a year, unveiled a 27-page report Wednesday that lays out broad goals to reduce childhood poverty. The goals include attacking hunger and improving health care, transportation, education and child care programs, and promoting solutions that will help transition people to employment. Maine’s poverty level for children is 13.1 percent, or about 33,000 children, who live below 100 percent of the federal poverty level, defined as $20,780 for a family of three. Compared with the United States, Maine ranks low in childhood poverty. Maine had the ninth-best childhood poverty rate in the nation in 2017, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. States such as South Carolina, Alabama, West Virginia, Mississippi and Louisiana had childhood poverty rates ranging from 21 percent to 28 percent. Read the story.

Manufacturing group appoints new chief

The board of the Maine Manufacturing Extension Partnership has promoted a longtime employee to lead the organization starting next year. Larry Robinson will replace Muriel Mosher, who is stepping down as president at the end of the year. Maine MEP is part of a national network of manufacturing extension centers that provide business and technical assistance to smaller manufacturers across the country. Robinson joined MMEP in 2004 and has served as Maine MEP’s center director since 2012. Read the story.

RETAIL

Retail sales likely to slow some in 2019

Curtis Picard cautioned a Lewiston-Auburn chamber breakfast Thursday morning that after six or seven years of growth, his retail forecast for 2019 looked “a little cloudy.” Picard, president and CEO of the Retail Association of Maine, said he isn’t negative on retail prospects in Maine next year, but his eyes are open. He’s listening to real estate agents who say the market is slowing down, and to car dealers who are proceeding cautiously, and he’s watching the effects of tariffs. Picard said he’s talked to retailers in Maine who stocked up on spring 2019 merchandise this fall, months early, to beat the added costs of impending tariffs, but who now have a lot of inventory they’re sitting on and need to move. For several years, gas prices have been low, consumer confidence has been high and the tourism seasons have been strong. But “I do think we’re headed for some changing times,” he said. Read the story.

HEALTH CARE

Sign-ups for ACA coverage lag

After more than five weeks of sign-ups for Affordable Care Act health insurance, enrollment through Maine’s ACA marketplace remained down significantly from the same period last year. From Nov. 1 to Dec. 8, roughly 32,275 Mainers either signed up for individual ACA insurance or actively renewed their policies, down 21 percent from 40,600 Mainers the previous year. Saturday was the deadline for 2019 enrollment in Maine. Nationally, individual sign-ups for the first month of ACA enrollment totaled 4.1 million, down 12 percent from 4.7 million a year earlier, according to the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. Read the story.

COMMERCIAL FISHERIES

Lobster exporters seeking new worldwide markets

The U.S. lobster industry is on the hunt for new consumers, pitching live lobster to Southeast Asia’s growing middle class and gourmet lobster rolls to Berlin foodies. American dealers are trying to offset market losses caused by unfavorable tariffs in China and Europe. Live lobster sales from the U.S. to China had been on pace to double in 2018 until China slapped a 25 percent tariff on lobster in July and the Maine-to-China lobster gusher sputtered out. Year-to-date exports to Europe are down by 34 percent, too, as a result of a trade deal that gives Canadian dealers preferential access to that market. The industry has redoubled its trade show efforts this year. Seven lobster companies – the most ever – exhibited at the seafood trade show in Hong Kong in September, and so many lobster exporters wanted to go to the Seafood Expo Global in Brussels, that organizers had to get permission to enlarge its pavilion at the sold-out event in May. Read the story.

AGRICULTURE

Farm bill holds benefits for Maine

A massive, multi-year farm bill headed to President Trump’s desk contains provisions that could benefit Maine’s growing agricultural sector, including increased federal funding for research and grant programs used locally. In a blip of bipartisanship before the new Congress takes office, Democrats and Republicans in both chambers worked together this week to pass the $867 billion bill, which has been in the works for several years. The bill sets policies and funding levels not only for agricultural programs – including controversial crop subsidies – but also for welfare programs such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, also known as food stamps. The measure also proposes billions of dollars to upgrade broadband infrastructure nationwide, a major priority for underserved areas of rural Maine. Read the story.