Missing from Brewer Mayor Bev Uhlenhake’s Jan. 28 Bangor Daily News OpEd, in which she tries to justify the City Council’s decision to support the Fiberight plan for waste disposal, was an important number: more than $1.5 million.
That’s the amount of money that Brewer just committed to this risky venture. The money, mostly cash and an additional amount for ownership interest in the Penobscot Energy Recovery Company facility, has been created by the successful operation of PERC over the past three decades. Collectively, PERC has generated more than $35 million of cash and equity for the towns it serves.
Those assets belong to the towns. The money can be used to buy down the cost of future tipping fees for waste disposal, or to buy a new fire truck, or support education. Brewer has elected to give control of its money to the Municipal Review Committee to invest in the yet-to-be-permitted Fiberight facility. Other towns are being much more cautious, and for good reason.
The MRC was originally created by towns and cities in the region to represent their interests in dealing with PERC. It was supposed to be an objective, honest broker — sort of like a buyer’s agent in real estate who has no financial stake in the property he or she is trying to sell you.
Unfortunately, the MRC is now trying to steer the towns it represents into a speculative venture in which it has a vested interest. Signing the MRC agreement means giving up local control of both your money and your future waste disposal options. And since many of these same towns already own nearly 23 percent of PERC collectively, the MRC is essentially asking you to build a new facility to compete with one you already own.
Uhlenhake urges other municipal leaders “to educate themselves and make decisions that will provide stability and predictability for our regions for years to come.”
We agree, and here are a few good places to start:
The MRC wants complete control of the money you have earned from PERC. PERC says it is yours; use it however you want.
The MRC guarantees its tipping fee for one year and gives Fiberight the ability to request future increases. PERC is offering guaranteed rates for 10 and 15 years. (If you choose to use the money PERC has created for your town to buy down your tipping fees for the next 10 years, PERC’s rates are actually much lower than Fiberight’s.)
The MRC agreement guarantees a certain amount of tonnage and revenue to Fiberight. If your waste volume is going to drop because you want to start an aggressive new recycling program, you need to get permission from the MRC and Fiberight.
PERC has no guaranteed annual tonnage or penalties and is actively working with companies such as WasteZero, Casella and Exeter Agri-Energy to encourage towns to reduce waste and increase recycling.
And if the Fiberight plant doesn’t get built or its new technology doesn’t work, you don’t get your money back. The PERC plant has operated for 28 years and has at least another 20 years left. Like PERC, the other companies we are working with all have successful operations in Maine, and none of us is asking your town to subsidize our operations or be our safety net.
Moreover, the technology PERC uses is essentially the same as that used in 85 other waste-to-energy plants operating successfully throughout the United States. No one else anywhere in North America is using the Fiberight technology.
So, by all means, make sure your town compares the options and carefully reviews the agreements it is being asked to sign. We are confident you will see that PERC works and that staying with us is the best, safest and most cost-effective way for your town to meet its future waste disposal needs.
Bob Knudsen is vice president of USA Energy Group LLC, the majority owner and managing partner of the Penobscot Energy Recovery Company (PERC) waste-to-energy facility in Orrington.