Contractor suing biomass firm in Joneboro citing unpaid bills

HANCOCK — George Moon of Hancock stopped receiving payments from biomass firm Stored Solar in March, but kept delivering wood chips because he had nowhere else to take them. By the time he found a different facility to buy his product, he was owed $47,000, he said.

As a small contractor with few ways to make up that loss, Moon said he had to take out a bank loan and let his creditors know some payments would be late. Since he pays a portion of his earnings to the people who own the land he harvests trees from, he paid them himself.

“Being any contractor, that’s quite a hit,” Moon said. “Especially the way the wood market is with all the paper mills being closed.”

Moon plans to file a civil lawsuit against the company this month to protect himself in case Stored Solar files for bankruptcy protection. His attorney, Chris Whalley of Ellsworth, said he had filed a pretrial notice of claim to the company seeking payment but received no response.

The first of two deadlines given to Stored Solar’s registered agent was Aug. 8, according to a document provided to The American. On Aug. 15, the company missed a second deadline to make payments, according to Whalley.

“If they’d responded and said, ‘Hey, here’s a payment plan,’ or, ‘Hey, here’s something,’ we wouldn’t be doing this,” Whalley said.

Representatives from Stored Solar did not respond to requests for comment.

Stored Solar, a biomass company based in Jonesboro and West Enfield, has been accused of not paying many of its contractors in 2017, according to multiple reports. The company is a subsidiary of a French-based energy company, Capergy.

The biomass firm was granted a subsidy from Maine’s Public Utilities Commission in December 2016, taking a share of $13.4 million in bailout funds issued by the PUC to biomass companies in the state. But within two months, contractors reported they weren’t getting paid.

This lawsuit comes after the company settled a dispute with large contractors in March, paying what it owed.

During that same month, Stored Solar renegotiated its contract with the PUC so that it would receive one lump sum in subsidy at the end of each year instead of monthly payments.

But, according to Dana Doran, executive director of the Professional Logging Contractors of Maine, Stored Solar then stopped paying smaller contractors such as Moon in Hancock and Washington counties.

“To my knowledge, those suppliers still have not been paid for the fuel they delivered in April, May or June,” Doran said. “Here we are, it’s Sept. 1, and they still haven’t been paid.”

Doran said other small contractors in the area have gone 60 to 90 days with no payment. Doran said most contractors typically get paid within 10 to 15 days of delivery.

“They’re stiff-arming mom and pops,” Whalley said. “Fifty thousand dollars is a lot of money for a young guy with a couple kids who employs locally.”

Moon said he’s hauled wood chips to the facility that was purchased by Stored Solar for about 15 years. He brought woodchips there when it was Covanta Energy, and before that when it was Indeck Energy.

For the year of 2016, after Covanta closed, there was no market for a small contractor such as Moon. When Stored Solar bought the facility last December, he said the new owners approached him and asked him to start bringing some of his product in. They told him they’d pay him within three weeks. The first payment didn’t come for 30 days, he said.

Moon said he was used to companies paying within seven days, but he gave Stored Solar a break because they were new. After a few late payments, he heard that larger contractors weren’t getting paid. He continued to deliver wood chips, he said, and eventually stopped receiving payments.

“They always said it would be next week when you asked about it,” Moon said.

According to Moon, this went on for six to eight weeks throughout this past spring. Eventually he found a separate facility for his product, and stopped providing fuel to Stored Solar.

Doran said his association will not be interfering in specific cases, but plans to make clear to the PUC that he thinks companies should not be receiving taxpayer-funded subsidies if they don’t pay their suppliers. “We feel strongly that no subsidy should be provided to a company that’s not able to pay for the fuel that it’s purchased,” Doran said.

Jack Dodson has worked for The Ellsworth American since mid-2017, and covers eastern Hancock and western Washington counties. He grew up in the Mid-coast region before living in New York City for five years, where he freelanced in documentary filmmaking and journalism. He is particularly interested in criminal justice, environment and immigration reporting.

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