The May 1 deadline has been extended for communities in central Maine and beyond to sign on to a planned waste-to-energy plant in Hampden as municipal commitments for the amount of trash the plan needs to be viable are at about half of the goal.

Cities and towns now have until June 30 to decide whether to sign on to the proposed Fiberight plant once their contracts with the Penobcot Energy Recovery Co. incinerator expire in 2018.

So far 75 communities, which represent about 78,000 tons of trash a year, have agreed to sign on with Fiberight, said Greg Lounder, executive director of the Municipal Review Committee, which comprises 187 communities that bring their garbage to the PERC incinerator in Orrington.

Fiberight needs about 150,000 tons a year to be viable, officials have said.

At stake are hundreds of thousands tons of waste and millions of dollars the communities pay for disposal, which could have an impact on taxpayers.

Lounder said Monday that the deadline was extended to give towns, some of which haven’t had a town meeting yet, more time to decide. He said he is not concerned that only half the tonnage commitment has been met for the Fiberight project.

“You don’t reach the finish line in any race until you reach the finish line,” Lounder said. “Certainly any number of things can go wrong, but I remain confident that we’ll reach our goal.”

He would not comment on how viable the project will remain if the goal isn’t met. Now, the towns comprising the MRC send about 200,000 tons of garbage to PERC a year.

“I think it’s important to stay focused on the original goal of 150,000 tons. I think that offers a higher level of project security,” Lounder said. “I will say that one of the elements of the Fiberight technology in general that attracted us to them in the first place is the technology’s ability to scale down or up based on the customer base. It’s a flexible technology, more scalable than comparable technologies.”

The Municipal Review Committee, which was organized to represent communities that have contracts with PERC, came up with its own plan — the Fiberight proposal — after determining that many of the post-2018 PERC contracts would be too expensive for MRC members.

While some area communities, including China and Oakland, have already agreed to sign 15-year contracts with Fiberight, others, like Waterville, Winslow, Fairfield and Winthrop, are opting out. Officials from those communities say they are looking for cheaper options or are not convinced that Fiberight’s plan is workable.

The proposed Fiberight project is a partnership consisting of MRC; Covanta, an energy recovery company; and Fiberight, a Maryland-based company. Tipping fees would be $70 per ton, although rebates are applicable to lower the costs more for some communities, according to Lounder. Towns that sign up would agree to 15-year contracts.

Recyclables would be sorted out of the trash and sold, and organic materials would be broken down with an anaerobic process to make biofuel. The company has a small-scale test plant in Lawrenceburg, Virgina, but has not built a full-scale plant yet in the U.S.

The plant would be up and running by April 1, 2018 — the PERC contracts end March 31 — so the community decisions have to be made soon so construction can begin, he said.

Lounder said it is the only solution the MRC is proposing as an alternative to PERC when the contracts run out, and officials visited towns earlier this year to pitch it.

Oakland is among the communities that have pledged to contract with Fiberight. Town Manager Gary Bowman said the lower cost of contracting with Fiberight, as well as the environmental aspect of the plan, convinced town officials that it is the best option for the town.

Though Oakland is not a member of MRC, the town will pay $67 per ton in tipping fees through Fiberight after a rebate is applied. Bowman said the town also looked at sending waste to the Crossroads landfill run by Waste Management Solutions in Norridgewock for a tipping fee of $64.50 per ton. However, transportation costs were higher to get waste to Norridgewock than to the Fiberight site, Bowman said.

Bowman said he is not worried that MRC has so far gotten only about half of the required commitment for the project.

“They’re going to get those tons,” Bowman said. “They have two more months of accumulating them. This is going to work. If people get behind this project, it’s going to work.”

The town of China has also taken steps toward signing on to the Fiberight plan. Town Manager Dan L’Heureux said Monday that selectmen voted 3-2 last month to enter into a 15-year agreement to send the town’s trash to the Fiberight plant following approval from voters at the annual town meeting in March.

“There were a lot of considerations with money and finances, and they went to many meetings and discussions about Fiberight and they felt the risks were minimized, so they felt comfortable moving forward,” L’Heureux said.

Some towns are not sold on the project, including Waterville and Winslow, members of MRC who have not yet made an official decision on how they will handle solid waste after 2018.

The Waterville City Council is scheduled to vote on the issue Tuesday and Fred Stubbert, chairman of the city’s solid waste committee, said last week that the committee has recommended that the city contract with the Norridgewock landfill. Stubbert said he is skeptical of the estimated $70 tipping fee MRC has quoted for member towns, saying that the project will not be able to generate enough revenue from recyclables to keep the cost that low.

Waterville is also looking at a hauling fee of up to $18 per ton to get waste to the Hampden plant bringing the total cost close to $90 per ton.

In coming up with tipping fees, MRC projected conservatively on the revenue generated from recyclables and Lounder said that over time they expect the market to improve and generate more revenue then estimated.

Winslow also decided not to go with the Fiberight project, which town officials see as a financial risk, said Town Manager Mike Heavener.

“We certainly have the option to join later if we wish, but at this point we’re concerned about the financial risk,” Heavener said. He said the town is hoping to work with other communities “to see if there’s a better, more local option as opposed to transporting our waste over 60 miles.”

“We want to really take a hard look to see what sort of options might exist locally,” Heavener said.

Rachel Ohm — 612-2368

[email protected]

Twitter: @rachel_ohm

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