Transition looms for state waste processing facilities

ELLSWORTH — For those in the businesses of trash processing or running towns, the first few months of 2018 have been a long-awaited moment.

March 31 of this year marks the end of the Municipal Review Committee’s (MRC) contract with Penobscot Energy Recovery Co. (PERC).

MRC is an Ellsworth-based nonprofit comprised of 187 municipalities that have their trash hauled to PERC, an Orrington-based waste facility that converts trash into energy.

After energy utility Emera Maine announced it would stop buying power from PERC in 2015 — ending a deal that had been providing PERC above-market rates for 30 years — MRC switched providers to a new facility. That new company, Maryland-based Fiberight, has had a plant in development ever since.

Fiberight CEO Craig Stuart-Paul said this week that the new facility, being built in Hampden, will be open for business around July. His company secured $70 million on Dec. 22 of last year to complete the facility.

Of that figure, $45 million came from bonds issued by the Finance Authority of Maine and $25 million came from private equity.

“We’ve moved through a whole bunch of processes and we’ve hit all our marks,” Stuart-Paul said. “If you ride up to the site, you’ll see that it’s coming along.”

As for the gap between April 1 and July, Stuart-Paul said there’s a contract in place for towns to have their waste sent to a separate facility in Norridgewock. But back in Ellsworth, MRC Executive Director Greg Lounder said he’s been in talks with PERC to keep sending waste to that facility for the interim period. He thinks the MRC members will send their trash to both the facility in Norridgewock and to PERC.

“I’m pleased at the prospect of finding a way to work with our old partners — even on an interim basis,” Lounder said.

When the shift occurs, MRC’s member communities will drop to 115. Lounder said the 62 members that left have made other arrangements to have their waste dealt with. The deal PERC had received from Emera Maine was good for these communities; Lounder said Emera Maine was paying about 17 cents per kilowatt hour even when the market rates were closer to 4 cents. Some of that money would be sent back to MRC communities.

Over at PERC, officials are optimistic about the looming change, saying it provides an opportunity for them to work with more commercial trash haulers.

Ted O’Meara, a PERC spokesman, said his company’s facility has been well maintained and is in good shape to be competitive in the energy market.

“PERC is very much viable,” he said. “PERC is going its own way. The plant has existed for 30 years; it’s in great shape.”

O’Meara pointed to the fact that company owners, mainly USA Energy, have continued to invest in the facility despite the changes coming.

“PERC continues to play a very prominent role,” O’Meara said. “It’s a key piece of state waste management.”

As of April 1, he said a little more than 40 municipalities have contracted with PERC — including Ellsworth, Hancock and Stonington.

For all three groups, the changes have been coming for a long time. All three men expressed optimism that 2018 has arrived and their plans can move forward.

For Stuart-Paul, the moment also is a test of his company’s ability to deliver. He said he was confident they’d prepared well.

“All I can tell you is you don’t get 70 million bucks just because you’re a nice guy,” Stuart-Paul said. “A lot of due diligence went into this.”

Jack Dodson
Jack Dodson began working for The Ellsworth American in 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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