Robert Knudsen (left), vice president of operations for USA Energy, the majority owner of Penobscot Energy Recovery Co., which is where Brewers trash is currently sent, stands at the podium and asks councilors to hold off on making a decision about where to send its trash after 2018 on Tuesday in Brewer. Buy Photo
BREWER, Maine — City leaders took a leap of faith Tuesday night when they unanimously approved signing a 15-year contract to send waste to the Municipal Review Committee’s planned trash-to-energy facility in Hampden starting in 2018.
Before making their decision, city councilors heard from Robert Knudsen, vice president of operations for USA Energy, the majority owner of Penobscot Energy Recovery Co., which is where the city’s trash is currently sent. He asked that Brewer hold off on making a decision and consider a term contract with PERC for 2018, which is when a lucrative contract with Emera Maine expires.
“I understand that there are those that [predict] we are not going to be viable after the contract expires,” Knudsen told councilors. “I believe that we will be viable.”
In 2015, the value of the Emera subsidies was $20 million, said Brewer Finance Director Karen Fussell, who also is a MRC board member. She said it will be difficult for PERC to remain open at current standards without that funding.
“There was a time when PERC was the new kid on the block [and people] were skeptical,” Councilor Kevin O’Connell said. “At that time, we had to take a leap of faith.”
It’s time to take another, he said.
After doing extensive research about the Fiberight project and PERC’s plans to stay operational, “I have to do what is right,” O’Connell said.
“We have been extremely pleased with PERC,” Councilor Jerry Goss said, a sentiment that was echoed by others.
Goss said his issue was that city officials have been discussing trash options for years and have asked for meetings with PERC, but no one showed up until Tuesday night.
“Where has PERC been for the last two years, since this entire process has been going on?” Goss asked. “To me this is like the ‘hail Mary’ pass at the end of the game.”
The MRC, which represents 187 Maine towns that send trash to PERC, officially partnered with Maryland-based Fiberight LLC in February 2015 in an effort to create a $69 million solid waste recycling and biofuels processing facility off Coldbrook Road in Hampden, near Interstate 95.
Craig Stuart-Paul, chief executive of Fiberight, said after the meeting that he was “delighted” that Brewer was the first municipality to officially sign on to support the project.
“It validated the whole vision to bring new recycling integration, new organics integration and reliable solid waste disposal to the region,” he said.
At the Hampden plant, Fiberight plans to use technology that will change organic materials in trash into biofuels, called Trashanol, after the glass, metals, papers and plastics are recycled.
The contract “provides a starting tip fee of $70 per ton, an annual [consumer price index] escalator, a minimum of a $5 per ton reduction in the tup fee in the first three years, and provisions to share in profits of facility above a certain level,” the council order states.
By Nok-Noi Ricker, BDN Staff
Posted Jan. 26, 2016, at 9:28 p.m.