By Dawn Gagnon | BDN Staff |Posted Feb. 04, 2015, at 8:14 p.m.
ORONO, Maine — After receiving assurances that the technology is viable, members of the Municipal Review Committee board voted unanimously Wednesday to enter a development agreement with a Maryland-based company that wants to build a solid waste processing facility that will turn trash into biofuel.
If the necessary approvals and financing come through, Fiberight will construct a 90,000-square-foot plant in Hampden that would replace the Penobscot Energy Recovery Co., a waste-to-energy plant in Orrington where member communities’ trash is sent to be burned and made into electricity.
The Municipal Review Committee is a nonprofit organization formed in 1991 to address the garbage disposal interests of a group of towns that totals 187 municipalities. The group’s leaders started looking for alternatives five years ago because they believe PERC, of which it is part owner, will not be profitable after 2018, when lucrative agreements for the electric power it generates expire.
If all goes to plan, the proposed $60 million state-of-the-art solid waste recycling and processing facility would be built in Hampden’s “triangle” area between Ammo Industrial Park, Interstate 95 and Coldbrook Road, Dean Bennett, the town’s economic and community development director, said last month, when the committee rolled its plan out to members during its annual meeting.
The project won’t require a landfill in Hampden, and the entire trash handling process will take place inside the facility, Bennett said.
The proposal must receive a solid waste processing permit from the state and approval from the Hampden Planning Board before proceeding, with a target date of operation in 2018.
Fiberight’s technology reuses organic materials in trash to make biofuels after the glass, metals, papers and plastics are removed to be sold on the commodities market. Research also is underway on the use of fibrous material left over from the distilling process to make other products, such as fuel pellets that can be used for heating.
With the amount of recycling and reuse planned, only about 20 percent of what people throw into their trash bins will make it to a landfill, Greg Lounder, the committee’s executive director, said earlier.
Fiberight has a demonstration plant in Lawrenceville, Virginia, that distills municipal solid waste into ethanol, biogas or compressed natural gas. Craig Stuart-Paul, the company’s chief executive, calls the fuel product made from garbage Trashanol, and he has copyrighted the name.
Fiberight also plans to break ground on a plant on Earth Day in April in Iowa, Stuart-Paul said during Wednesday’s Municipal Review Committee board meeting, held at the Orono Municipal Building.
The Municipal Review Committee last fall hired a University of Maine team to study the Virginia plant to ensure the technology works in the colder climates of Maine.
The findings were made public during Wednesday’s meeting.
Hermant Pendse, director of UMaine’s Forest Bioproducts Research Institute and chairman of the Chemical and Biological Engineering Department, guided the team.
Pendse said he and other team members have experience with concepts similar to that being advanced by Fiberight, many of them from Maine’s pulp and paper industry. In addition to a visit to Fiberight’s Virginia plant, the team worked with consultants, he said.
“So to give you the upshot, our analysis of the Fiberight technology and their operating experiences is that the technology is sound and it’s ready to be deployed in Maine,” Pendse said.
The team’s conclusions, he said, were based on what they saw at the pilot site in Virginia as well as information developed for the plant that will be built in Iowa, which will be similar in size to the one proposed for Maine and will operate in similar climate conditions.
“In other words, we are not the first ones working on this. We are the second, and we will benefit from being the second,” he said.
Board members said on Wednesday that before striking out in search of new trash handling technology, they tried to work with PERC’s private partners, namely majority owner USA Energy and minority private owner PERC Holdings LLC.
Representatives of PERC Holdings LLC — the plant’s minority private owner — and its host town both said during the committee’s annual meeting in Bangor last month that they wanted to explore ways to keep PERC part of the region’s waste disposal scene. Majority private owner USA Energy did not send representatives to the meeting.
Neither private owner was represented at Wednesday’s meeting. Orrington Town Manager Paul White attended the session but did not address the committee during the session.
One of the reasons the group representing the cities and towns cited for going forward with plans in Hampden was a Dec. 15 deadline for a proposal to incorporate PERC into its post-2018 plans. USA Energy did not come through with a proposal by that date, nor had it responded to previous requests for the past few years, committee officials said Wednesday.
White recently attempted to coordinate a meeting among all of the PERC partners, but it did not come to pass. Another attempt has been made to bring about another meeting next week, but that meeting will not be open to the public, board members noted.
“No matter what the issue is, I don’t like being strung along. Read into that what you like,” board member Ken Fletcher said. “I think in polite terms, it’s time to fish or cut bait.”
The development agreement signed Wednesday will be succeeded by a more detailed master agreement once negotiations are completed.
The committee’s member municipalities will be asked for local approvals, likely in 2016.