BREWER, Maine — City officials expected a drop in waste going to Penobscot Energy Recovery Co. in Orrington with Brewer’s new zero-sort recycling and pay-as-you-throw programs, but residents exceeded their expectations and the amount of waste heading to PERC dropped significantly.
So much so that the city was penalized for not reaching its guaranteed annual tonnage of 7,400 tons for 2010, Finance Director Karen Fussell said Friday. The city missed the mark by 618 tons.
“The penalty equates to $11.27 per ton, which is still 75 percent less than the $45 per ton we would have paid if we had sent that trash to PERC for disposal,” she said. “We knew the penalty was coming and it was relatively small, less than $7,000.”
With the two new trash and recycling programs the city expected reductions, Fussell said.
“We knew that we were facing decreasing tonnages and … submitted our application to reduce the [guaranteed annual tonnage] by 1,000 tons and they approved it,” she said.
The city’s application was approved last July and the guaranteed annual tonnage was lowered to 6,400 tons, effective in January.
In 2009, 55 communities — Brewer included — fell short of their guarantee and PERC waived the fees, which totaled $150,000. This year, 45 towns didn’t make their guarantee and will pay $100,000 in fees, which includes Brewer’s $6,961 penalty.
City leaders are asking for another tonnage reduction this year since participation in the new recycling program, which has been in place for a year, has been so good and because of the drop in waste since the pay-as-you-throw program started in January.
“Our programs have been so wildly successful we are expecting our tonnage falling short again for 2011,” Fussell said. “We’ve asking for a 1,500-ton reduction. A [guarantee] of 4,900 tons is what we’re requesting. That’s our goal.”
The reduction in trash heading to PERC has reduced costs for Brewer.
“With the overwhelming success of pay-as-you-throw, the city is $26,000 to $27,000 under budget,” Fussell said.
The city paid around $231,000 to PERC for residential waste in 2009-10 and set aside $188,000 for fiscal year 2010-11, which ends at the end of June, and “right now we’re at around $161,000,” she said.
Brewer also further offsets its trash costs because it receives a credit for commercial tonnage sent to PERC, Fussell said.
With several area communities recently moving to or considering zero-sort recycling and pay-as-you-throw programs, Fussell said the time is now to begin discussions about how to keep PERC operational with reduced tonnage.
“If PERC goes away, we’re all going to be in a world of hurt,” she said.
PERC is a private-public partnership that is 77 percent owned by Minneapolis, Minn., residents John Noer and Kevin Nordby, and 23 percent owned by the Municipal Review Committee, which is a partnership of more than 86 Maine communities, including Brewer.
Municipal Review Committee members get reduced tipping rates until 2018, when the original contract expires. Starting this year, members will see an annual step increase ranging from $1 to $4, so that by 2018 all members will be paying $67 per ton.
“On July 1, our tipping fee is increasing by $1 to $46,” Fussell said. “We wanted to kind of start feeling the pain little by little rather than all at once in 2018.”
In a memo sent to City Council members last month, Fussell said, “It is a common thought among many of the communities under contract with PERC that disposal costs will at least double (to $90 per ton) if not triple once the contract expires.”
She added: “We expect [the commercial tonnage] credit to go away after 2018 as well, which will further increase overall waste costs for the city.”
BDN writer Diana Bowley contributed to this report.