ORRINGTON, Maine — The majority owner of the Penobscot Energy Recovery Co. says it has struck an agreement with Casella Waste Systems to deliver commercial waste from around the region to its incinerator in Orrington.
Bob Knudsen, vice president of USA Energy Group, claims this agreement is enough to keep the PERC facility open after a lucrative energy purchasing contract expires in 2018.
The essence of the agreement, he added, is that Casella will provide enough waste as needed for PERC to stay viable, a practice called backfilling. PERC today burns around 309,000 tons of trash annually, but plans to operate in 2018 with only 210,000 tons, Knudsen said.
In talking points about the agreement he provided to the Bangor Daily News, Knudsen said this backfill would come from “all the commercial tons Casella collects in the PERC service area,” which includes, but is not limited to, Bangor, Brewer, Orono, Old Town, Hermon, Holden, Ellsworth, Hampden, Eddington and Belfast.
This reported agreement comes as the Municipal Review Committee, a nonprofit group that represents the trash disposal interests of 187 Maine municipalities, is working with a PERC competitor for post-2018 trash contracts.
The MRC has aligned with Maryland-based Fiberight LLC to start a $69 million Hampden facility that will use technology to change organic materials in trash into biogas after the glass, metal, paper and plastic are recycled. Biogas is similar to natural gas.
The reported PERC/Casella agreement now raises concerns that waste tonnage to the new Fiberight plant, promised through a litany of new town contracts just recently signed, could be undercut if the commercial waste is sent to PERC instead.
Brewer was the first community to sign on with the MRC in January and Bangor, which generates 28,000 tons of waste annually, is the largest.
The proposed Hampden waste-to-energy plant is in direct competition with PERC, which plans to stay operational after waste contracts for all 187 MRC member communities and an above-market contract for electricity with Emera Maine end in early 2018.
Knudsen said while the new Casella contract does not have a specific tonnage amount tied to it, PERC still needs to secure contracts to reach the 210,000 tons of trash needed annually to stay profitable when its lucrative electricity contract ends in two years. He also declined to say what Casella will pay PERC to dispose of the trash it collects.
Don Meagher, manager of planning and development for Casella Waste Systems, said in most cases commercial hauling involves a contract between a business or individual and the hauler and “the hauler decides where they are going to bring it for disposal.”
Although Knudsen said the agreement with Casella post-2018 exists, Meagher, however, said Monday he was “not aware of any agreement.” No update from Meagher was available on Wednesday.
In response, Knudsen told the BDN that Meagher is hesitant to confirm the agreement because he has not yet seen the signed contract, which is confidential. Knudsen maintained that PERC has contacted around 19 commercial haulers and others who deal with special waste about post-2018 contracts and Casella is the first to sign an agreement.
Leaders of the Municipal Review Committee say the PERC announcement is just a devious tactical ploy.
“It’s part of their effort to make the MRC/Fiberight project fail,” MRC Executive Director Greg Lounder said Friday. “If PERC becomes the only option, it allows them to dictate the terms and price” of trash disposal for the region.
Bangor City Manager Cathy Conlow said that a Maine law that Bangor city leaders enacted as an ordinance years ago gives the community control over where commercial and municipal haulers within the city dispose of solid waste, a policy known as “flow control.”
All waste collected in Bangor will be funnelled to the MRC/Fiberight plant in Hampden as part of the “28,000 tons in its agreement with Fiberight,” she said.
“Bangor seeks a solution for all waste generated within its borders, not just waste collected curbside,” Conlow said in an email. “As much as two-thirds of Bangor’s waste comes from commercial sources.”
Any individual or company that provides, places or services any dumpster or similar container for the collection or handling of solid waste in Bangor shall obtain a solid waste haulers license, the city code states.
Knudsen, however, argued that Bangor and Brewer — which has a similar regulation — will not be able to enforce the local law because the communities have no ownership in the MRC/Fiberight facility. He said that once the PERC contracts end in 2018, “the flow control goes away.”
Casella Waste Systems in northern Maine, which handles trash and recycling for a number of Maine towns, is also in the middle of pursuing a 9.35-million-cubic-yard expansion at Juniper Ridge to double the capacity of the state landfill. Casella, earlier this year, also signed on to be PERC’s municipal solid waste bypass alternative, if the plant is out of service for any reason.
In December, PERC announced the creation of Maine Waste Processing LLC, a collaboration among PERC; Casella; Exeter Agri-Energy, a renewable energy company that converts animal and food waste into electricity; and WasteZero, which will handle recyclable materials for the partnership. Five communities have agreed to send waste to PERC post-2018.
If all goes as planned, the new contract with Casella should be the first of many, Knudsen said.
“We’re talking to haulers,” Knudsen said. “We still need municipal tons, and we still need commercial tons to get to our 210,000.”
With 64 community contracts, the MRC is about halfway to its goal of securing 150,000 tons of trash on an annual basis for the Fiberight trash-to-energy facility in Hampden. On Friday, the MRC board extended the deadline to June 30 for communities to sign contracts and be eligible to share any future profits.
PERC’s 2014 annual report states it burned 308,890 tons of municipal solid waste, with 179,493 tons from MRC communities and 108,488 tons in commercial waste, with most coming up from the Portland area with the closure of Maine Energy Recovery Co. in Biddeford.
Casella also has an interest in keeping PERC viable, as all the ash created in the incineration process in Orrington is taken to the Casella-run Juniper Ridge landfill. By comparison, the excess waste created from the Fiberight plant is slated to go to Crossroads Landfill in Norridgewock, which is run by a Casella rival, Waste Management.
Since the MRC towns are part owner of PERC, Lounder requested a copy of the PERC/Casella agreement but was not issued one. But, he said, he was told since the agreement is between Casella and Maine Waste Processing Company, an agent of PERC, he would not get a copy.
“If the contract actually exists … I feel I’d have a right to see the agreement,” Lounder said.