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Jonesboro biomass plant fires up for the first time in months, then shuts off

By Darren Fishell, BDN Staff
Gabor Degre | BDN | BDN
Gabor Degre | BDN | BDN
A truck delivers wood chips to the Covanta Energy's West Enfield facility, Jan. 7, 2016.

A biomass plant in Jonesboro could collect up to $81,000 in taxpayer subsidies for July, coming back online July 5 after an outage that started at 5 p.m. on March 23.

But the restart by operator Stored Solar lasted only until the early morning hours of July 22, and the company’s second biomass facility in West Enfield remained offline after cutting production mid-June.

The sporadic outages show continued troubles for the company that sparked complaints of nonpayment from loggers and has so far produced less than half the power it expected to when regulators approved giving it a subsidy for its electricity.

As a result, the company that has generated enough power to collect about $1 million in state subsidies has missed out on about $1.3 million in subsidies intended to make their way to employees of the facilities and, primarily, back into the woods to support loggers hit hard by the decline of Maine’s paper industry.

Stored Solar also has touted big plans for its biomass plants as it rejected the notion that it’s getting a taxpayer subsidy, preferring to call the money a “bio-economy on-ramp incentive.”

[ Maine’s $13M bailout of biomass plants will mean jobs, but at a cost of $23,700 each]

That plan involves a $240 million biorefinery in East Millinocket and a search for other companies to locate near its biomass plants as customers for waste heat and carbon dioxide from the facilities.

[ Developers eye East Millinocket as heart of $240M biomass venture]

The newcomer to Maine’s biomass industry is competing with the state’s other operator of standalone biomass plants, ReEnergy, which is also seeking new lines of business as the only way to keep the facilities running without subsidies.

[ One town’s effort to save Maine’s forest economy reflects a statewide hope]

It’s unclear how much of the $13.4 million subsidy will reach the company, as the amount can be reduced if the company doesn’t maintain contractual employment levels and spend a certain amount on Maine wood and improvements to the facilities.

Lawmakers approved the subsidy arrangement in a 2016 bailout, directing the Maine Public Utilities Commission to evaluate bids from potential generators. The commission will review each company’s economic contributions at the end of the year.

Between its two facilities, Stored Solar operated at about 25 percent of its projected capacity in July, up from about 20 percent in June, but much lower than the beginning of the year.

The company attributed the shutdown in Jonesboro to a boiler leak and trouble sourcing wood during mud season, though the shutdown lingered until July 5.

Two other biomass plants, run by ReEnergy in Ashland and Fort Fairfield, racked up about another $600,000 in taxpayer subsidies for the month, putting their total at nearly $2.7 million since they began operating under the subsidy deal in March.

 


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