OLD TOWN, Maine — The City Council approved an agreement with Casella Waste Systems Inc. on Thursday evening that will give Old Town a portion of the money Casella makes operating a proposed pipeline that would transport methane from the Juniper Ridge Landfill to the University of Maine steam plant.
Despite pressure from residents Thursday night to turn down the agreement out of fear Casella will be given incentives to increase the size of the landfill, the council approved the agreement. The agreement will require Casella to give the city 5 percent of all of its revenues derived from the sale of landfill gas and from electricity or steam generated by it. It also will require Casella to give 8 percent of any sales of carbon emission reductions to the city, 5 percent of revenue from the sale of renewable energy credits and free disposal at the landfill of all sludge from Old Town and Orono’s wastewater treatment plants.
Thursday’s approved agreement is not contingent on whether Casella and UM go ahead with the pipeline deal. It is only meant to define what Old Town gets out of the deal, according to the council.
In addition to the money Casella will owe the city if it builds the pipeline, the company also will be required to provide 50 percent of any savings and interest acquired from the use of the $3 million federal stimulus grant the city applied for last December. If the grant is secured, the agreement stipulates the city will benefit from applying it to the pipeline project.
Several of the residents in attendance urged the council to vote against the agreement, saying that Casella will be too eager to enlarge the landfill to generate methane. But Councilor William Lovejoy said the agreement is only to ensure the city benefits from the pipeline and that rejecting it would only mean more money for Casella and less for Old Town. He added the proposed pipeline project, by itself, would mean no increase in the landfill.
“The amount of debris brought in will affect how much methane is produced, OK,” Lovejoy said. “But the fact that they’re pulling methane off doesn’t mean they’re going to automatically add more waste to make methane. That doesn’t even make any sense.
“All landfills produce methane, and it produces methane at the rate that you put material in,” he said. “It’s generating methane now, and we’re not generating electricity or doing anything with it. If we stopped putting material in right now it would still generate methane for another 60 years.”
City Manager Margaret Daigle said she has been given preliminary estimates that show the amount of material in the landfill will increase “slightly,” which she defined as about a hundred thousand tons, but she was unable to elaborate.
Councilor Jamie Dufour reminded the other councilors and the audience that “the landfill’s there,” and he is sure Casella will move forward with the project with UM whether Old Town approved its agreement or not.
The proposed 6-mile gas pipeline and some upgrades to the UM steam plant would allow the facility to switch from burning natural gas to burning landfill gas. The switch would result in a significant reduction in carbon dioxide emissions, according to the city’s grant application that it filed in December. The university steam plant provides heat to much of the Orono campus.
The agreement was approved with five in favor and one abstention.