OLD TOWN, Maine — A plan to build a 6-mile gas pipeline from the Juniper Ridge Landfill site in Old Town to the University of Maine steam plant has been put off course by a U.S. Department of Energy decision not to award a $3 million grant to fund the project.
“We didn’t get the funding. I’m disappointed and certainly surprised because it typifies the kind of alternative energy project people are looking for, and it would have saved money and energy,” said Margaret Daigle, Old Town’s city manager. “From the city’s standpoint, it would provide us with a solid use of that landfill gas as opposed to them just flaring it off and doing nothing with it.”
In June, the Old Town City Council voted 5-1 to approve an agreement with Casella Waste Systems Inc. that would give the town 5 percent of all revenues derived from the sale of gas from the landfill and electricity generated by it. The deal also would give 8 percent of any sales of carbon emission reductions to the town, along with 5 percent of revenue from the sale of renewable energy credits. Old Town and Orono also would have free disposal rights at the landfill of all sludge from their wastewater treatment plants.
“I think the project is still a very viable project and still needs to be pursued, but it’s very costly and it’s important to find the funding to move forward,” said Daigle. “Casella, if they want to do the project, will have to fund the entire project themselves — either that or seek other grants.”
Attempts to reach Casella officials by phone for comment Monday were unsuccessful.
An alternative plan floated by Casella involves building a gas-to-energy plant closer to the landfill and to sell the electricity it produces to the regional power grid. With either plan, Old Town would share in the profits by virtue of its standing as the host community. For its part as a producer of green or renewable energy, Casella would have incentives and a license to bring more gas-generating waste to Juniper Ridge.
The town applied for the $3 million grant last December. Several Old Town residents disapproved of the deal in June over fears that Casella would be too eager to increase the size of the landfill to generate more methane.
The proposed 6-mile pipeline and some upgrades to the UMaine steam plant would allow the Juniper Ridge facility to switch from burning natural gas to landfill gas, resulting in a significant reduction in carbon dioxide emissions, according to the town’s grant application filed last December. The University of Maine’s steam plant provides heat to much of the Orono campus.