BELFAST, Maine — Belfast City Councilors voted unanimously this week to enter into an agreement with other Maine municipalities to send the city’s solid waste to the new Fiberight waste-to-energy plant in Hampden.
“We were presented with an economic case in which Fiberight is clearly the best deal,” Councilor Neal Harkness said before the vote at Tuesday night’s regular city council meeting.
Councilor Mike Hurley agreed.
“I just think the Fiberight thing is better on all counts,” he said.
The city currently sends its municipal waste to the Penobscot Energy Recovery Co. in Orrington, which burns the garbage to produce some energy and puts the residual ash in a landfill. Belfast belongs to the Municipal Review Committee, a group representing 187 municipalities that send their waste to PERC. But in early 2015, the review committee chose Fiberight to handle the trash after the PERC contract expires in 2018. Belfast is one of nearly 200 communities that needed to decide whether to stick with the MRC or break off to stay with the waste-to-energy plant they had used for many years.
A big reason to move away from PERC is cost, according to Belfast city officials. Presently, the city pays PERC $76.80 per ton of garbage. But that number has been kept artificially low because of a power purchase agreement with Emera Maine, which pays more than market rate for electricity generated at the PERC plant. The Municipal Review Committee estimates the tipping fees would rise to $100 per ton after the Emera Maine contract expires in 2018, but PERC officials have said they could get the costs down to $84 per ton, Belfast City Manager Joe Slocum wrote in his manager’s report.
In contrast, Fiberight has offered the city a 15-year agreement at $70 per ton.
Fiberight plans to build a privately funded $60 million to $70 million facility that would convert organic materials in household trash to marketable biogas. The review committee would purchase the land and lease it to Fiberight.
Belfast city councilors said at the meeting that they have heard some residents say that if the city chooses Fiberight, the city would stop its recycling program. This isn’t true, they said.
“They are not discouraging towns from having recycling programs,” Councilor Mary Mortier said.
In fact, Slocum wrote that Fiberight would aid the city in upping its recycling rates by pulling more recyclable waste out of the garbage stream, such as plastics and metals and selling it. Additionally, Fiberight would take Belfast’s organic waste, including food waste and use it to produce various types of gas.
“The Fiberight technology is new for this country but encompasses technology that is proven around the world,” Slocum wrote.
Councilor John Arrison said the city’s agreement with Fiberight should not change Belfast’s commitment to recycling.
“This should not stop us from developing an aggressive recycling program and strategy,” he said.
With this vote, Belfast joins such Maine communities as Bangor, Brewer, Bar Harbor and Hampden in making the switch to Fiberight.
BDN writer Nick McCrea contributed to this report.