BANGOR, Maine — Bangor’s city councilors are grappling with what could prove to be the biggest decision they’ll face during their tenure — where to send their trash.
Bangor officials sat down for a meeting Wednesday night with representatives of Penobscot Energy Recovery Co., a waste-to-energy plant in Orrington. Last week, councilors heard the pitch from Fiberight-Covanta, two firms that want to start a new plant in Hampden.
The groups are competing for the trash produced by some 187 towns and cities in central and northern Maine — members of the Municipal Review Committee. That committee formed in 1991 to work with PERC to improve operations and control costs, and, to this point, PERC has been its sole partner.
Many of those towns are likely to turn an eye to Bangor, MRC’s largest member, as they make their decision. Brewer and Bar Harbor already have selected Fiberight.
The partnership with PERC came into question several years ago when it became clear that the plant’s financial situation would change after 2018, when its contract with Emera Maine expires. As a result, the tipping fees PERC is quoting are above the starting rate for Fiberight — $84.36 per ton for a 15-year agreement or $89.57 for 10 years.
MRC, which has a board consisting of officials from communities including Bangor, Brewer and Waterville, sought other options, and has backed the Fiberight proposal. Now, councilors and selectmen in each city and town must decide whether to go with MRC’s preference or stick with PERC.
PERC told Bangor councilors on Wednesday that they have the experience and infrastructure in place to provide waste-to-energy services and that there is less risk associated with their proposal.
“We know PERC works,” said Robert Knudsen, vice president of operations for USA Energy, the majority owner of PERC.
He argued that Bangor already owns a significant interest in PERC. Knudsen also said that post-2018, PERC would process about one-third less waste and reduce its staff from 77 to about 55 under a new business model in order to stay financially viable.
However, Fiberight is offering to cover the costs of building a new $65 million facility while asking a tipping fee that’s nearly $20 per ton less than PERC’s proposal. PERC has called the viability of Fiberight’s plan into question, casting it as an untested technology and a risky new venture.
Craig Stuart-Paul, Fiberight’s CEO, told Bangor councilors there are more than 300 plants across Europe that are similar to the one that would be built in Hampden.
“We guarantee this is going to work,” he said.
PERC has said that Bangor could reduce its tipping fee by using reserves at PERC to “pay down” its tipping fee and bring it closer to the number offered by Fiberight.
“This represents most likely the longest-lasting choice that you’ll make for the city of Bangor during your tenure on this council,” Councilor Josh Plourde told his fellow councilors during the meeting with Fiberight last week, urging them to consider the decision carefully.
Other councilors shared that sentiment, and said they would take time to parse through hundreds of pages of documents outlining the proposals before inviting back representatives from both groups later this month for one more round of questioning before having a full council debate and vote. That date has not been set.
Follow Nick McCrea on Twitter at @nmccrea213.