After scaling back its plan and extending deadlines, the municipal solid waste firm Fiberight is ready to build the first waste-to-energy plant of its kind in the country.

The deadline for towns to sign on to send their waste to the new plant, which will be in Hampden, was June 30. The Municipal Review Committee, which represented 187 towns in a contract with the Penobscot Energy Recovery Company, urged members to sign on to the new venture, which it says is the more viable option after their PERC contracts expire in 2018.

Of the 187 towns, 104 signed on to the Fiberight proposal, pledging a total of 118,639 tons of trash per year, including commercial and non-charter municipal trash. A few towns have been granted extended deadlines to make their decisions because of later town meetings.

The Maryland-based Fiberight plans to convert trash into renewable biofuel. While there are no plants of its kind in the United States, there are more than 300 in Europe, according to Fiberight CEO Craig Stuart-Paul. The only difference between those and the Hampden plant is an additional processing component to make bio-organics, which works separately from the rest of the plant, he said on the phone Wednesday.

SMALLER SCALE

Previously, Fiberight had said it needed an annual commitment of 150,000 tons by May, but the company said it’s flexible so the plant size can be scaled back.

A smaller plant is easier to build and operate, so it’s preferable for Fiberight, Stuart-Paul said.

The MRC’s technical consultant reviewed Fiberight’s pro forma, or financial projections, and found that the project will still be financially feasible with the lower tonnage amount, according to an email sent to MRC members on June 3. The report shows that members would still get rebates with the lower amount, too.

The best prices and rebates will go to the members who signed onto the project by the deadline. It’s possible more towns could be allowed to join in the future, but there isn’t much flexibility once the plant is built, Stuart-Paul said.

There will be a $2.21 per ton penalty and no rebates for late-joining members, said MRC spokesperson Jessamine Pottle.

Oakland, which brings its trash along with Waterville’s to PERC, is joining Fiberight and is locked into the rate for 15 years with annual CPI adjustments, Town Manager Gary Bowman said. The town chose Fiberight because it was the most financially and environmentally responsible choice, he said.

“I think we need to be stewards of this planet,” Bowman said.

Tracy Frost, chairman of Oakland’s transfer station committee agreed. “Just digging a hole in the ground and dumping your trash in it is very, very old technology and very, very unhealthy technology,” he said.

Frost also said feedback from residents showed they didn’t want to use a landfill either.

Bowman said the project has safeguards for potential bugs, he said. If something goes wrong, the towns will use Waste Management until the plant is fixed.

Signing on to Fiberight could potentially save the town money, too, Bowman said. Aside from a decreased tipping fee, the transfer station’s hours of operation will probably be cut down to four days per week from seven, he said.

Stuart-Paul expects to lock down the plant’s design and start construction at the end of summer, once the towns with extended deadlines have either committed to the Hampden plant or opted out.

OTHER OPTIONS

Some towns are staying with PERC despite doubts the company will survive past 2018. PERC says it serves more than 300,000 people and that the company will be liable even after its contract with Emera Maine expires in 2018 at the same time the contracts with the member towns expire. A message left with PERC’s general manager was not immediately returned.

PERC had a heavy influence on communities’ reactions to Fiberight, Pottle said, although she thinks more towns would have signed on if there was another facility in the country. The reason MRC members and Fiberight employees visited town meetings to explain the new plant to residents and the deadline was extended was to be accessible and open to people who were questioning the idea, she said.

“We didn’t realize how much negative campaigning was going to come from PERC,” Stuart-Paul said.

Other towns aren’t planning on using either company for their trash.

Winslow, a departing member of MRC that used PERC, is also planning on sending its roughly 2,800 tons of trash to the landfill in Norridgewock, an option Waterville is also considering.

“The primary reason is the risk,” Town Manager Mike Heavener said of why the Town Council didn’t vote for Fiberight.

The approved Norridgewock agreement with Waste Management will cost $64.50 per ton and last five years.

The Fiberight plant would also require the town to send a certain amount of waste annually, Heavener said. By choosing Norridgewock, the town can explore instituting recycling and composting programs to reduce its waste, he said.

The town has a Municipal Waste Committee that is looking at different options. The Norridgewock landfill does take recycling.

Heavener also commented on the distance to Hampden, which is about an hour from Winslow, and how much fuel the town will use transporting waste.

“We’re hopeful that, working with other towns, we can develop a more regional strategy that’s more efficient,” he said. In the future, if the technology is there, Heavener said, there’s nothing stopping Central Maine towns from building a plant similar to Fiberight’s.

As an equity charter member in MRC, Winslow invested in its $25 million tipping fee stabilization fund, of which $5 million would be used to build the utility and road infrastructure in Hampden. As a member, Winslow would pay a $70 tipping fee and get a $5 per ton rebate if it had signed up with Fiberight, according to Pottle.

Other towns that are new members to MRC, like Burlington, would pay a higher tipping fee of $72.21.

Madeline St. Amour – 861-9239

[email protected]

Twitter: @madelinestamour

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