ORRINGTON — In the face of a shrinking customer base, the Penobscot Energy Recovery Co. (PERC) is turning to new methods in order to increase efficiency and reduce costs.
“In our new operation there is a significant reduction in non-processable material, because our new grinders seem to process everything we throw at them,” said Plant Manager Henry Lang.
Those new grinders, known as “Terminators,” are part of a facility-wide effort to move away from refuse-derived technology to mass-burn technology.
“In our old operation we’d take out plastic, grit, ferrous metals and anything with low heating value on the front end,” Lang said. “Now everything but ferrous metal goes through the process. About the only thing I can think of that the grinders haven’t been able to handle was an anvil.”
PERC took possession of the first slow-speed grinder in June 2017, followed by a second acquisition in April of this year. The enormous machines grind down all manner of waste into easily burnable fragments, which are then fed into the plant’s furnaces, which generates steam used for power generation.
The improved processing capacity means that there is less landfilled material, including non-processable items and ash left over from the incineration process. It’s also allowed PERC to lower its tipping fees from $84.36 per ton to $75 per ton, although Lang also noted that this is partially attributable to recent staff reductions.
Those reductions have come as PERC’s customer relationship with the Municipal Review Committee (MRC) has ended. MRC is a nonprofit that manages municipal solid waste for over 100 Maine towns. MRC’s latest contract with PERC expired in March of this year. MRC in 2016 announced plans to begin using the new Fiberight facility in Hampden.
Initially scheduled to open in April 2018, Fiberight has seen numerous delays in construction, although it expects to open in the fall.
For now, PERC plans to continue operations with non-MRC communities.
“It’s one of the high points, the better outcomes from this controversy,” Lang said. “It’s forced us to change our operations and operate the plant in a more efficient manner.”