By Abigail W. Adams / The Lincoln County News / April 27, 2016
The Wiscasset Transfer Station has sent its garbage to the Penobscot Energy Recovery Co. since the town’s transfer station was built in the early 1990s, Superintendent Ron Lear said, but that relationship may be coming to an end.
At Wiscasset’s annual town meeting by referendum in June, residents will vote on whether to remain a member of Municipal Review Committee Inc. and send its solid waste to Fiberight LLC’s planned state-of-the-art trash-disposal facility in Hampden beginning in April 2018.
If approved, Wiscasset will join the bandwagon of municipalities that have already committed to processing their waste with Fiberight LLC, leaving behind their relationship with Penobscot Energy Recovery Co. It is a change that could save Wiscasset $25,000 a year in tipping fees, the cost of dumping solid waste, Lear said.
The Municipal Review Committee, a nonprofit organization that represents about 187 municipalities, formed in 1991, in part because of financial issues experienced by Penobscot Energy Recovery Co., according to the committee’s website.
The company was in danger of bankruptcy; the municipalities that had individual contracts with the facility formed the Municipal Review Committee to provide oversight and help ensure its future economic viability.
For decades, the Municipal Review Committee has helped ensure stable tipping fees at Penobscot Energy Recovery Co. and returned dividends to its member communities, partly due to Penobscot Energy Recovery Co.’s contract with the utility Emera Maine. The contract enabled Penobscot Energy Recovery Co. to sell the electricity generated at its waste-to-energy facility in Orrington at nearly double the market rate, Lear said.
In 2018, the same year Penobscot Energy Recovery Co.’s 30-year contract with municipalities is set to expire, the company’s contract with Emera Maine will come to an end. “If Penobscot Energy Recovery Co. loses half of its revenue, what’s going to happen to our tipping fees?” Lear said.
In preparation for 2018, the Municipal Review Committee searched for a new long-term waste-disposal solution for the municipalities it represents. The solution the Municipal Review Committee is proposing is a new 15-year contract with Fiberight LLC, a Maryland-based company that hopes to build a facility in Maine to transform waste into biofuel.
The proposed facility would contain state-of-the-art technology that would allow it to separate recyclables out of the waste stream and convert remaining waste into biofuel and marketable electricity, according to Fiberight’s website. In order for the planned facility to be built, a critical mass of municipalities needs to agree to process their waste with Fiberight.
If Fiberight is guaranteed 150,000 tons of solid waste from municipalities, construction of the Hampden plant will move forward, Lear said.
The change is still two years away, but the question of where to process solid waste is one municipalities need to decide now, Lear said.
Tipping fees at Penobscot Energy Recovery Co. have steadily increased throughout the years, although they have been offset by a quarterly dividend paid to Wiscasset through its membership with the Municipal Review Committee, Lear said.
Currently, tipping fees at Penobscot Energy Recovery Co. are $81.74 per ton. If Wiscasset remains with Penobscot Energy Recovery Co., tipping fees for a new 15-year contract will be $84.36 a ton. Wiscasset generates about 1,800 tons of solid waste a year, translating into 78 loads that need to be hauled to Orrington, Lear said. The estimated annual cost to remain with Penobscot Energy Recovery Co. in 2018 will be $157,326.
If Wiscasset remains a member of the Municipal Review Committee and processes its waste with Fiberight, tipping fees for a 15-year contract will be $70 a ton, with a rebate of $8 to $9 from recycling revenue and the Municipal Review Committee’s tip stabilization fund. The estimated annual cost of switching to Fiberight in 2018 will be $116,702, Lear said.
Ecomaine, a third vendor floating a waste-disposal proposal to municipalities, has offered a 20-year contract at $70.50 a ton. While Ecomaine has the closest waste-disposal facility to Wiscasset, and the town could save on transportation costs, the total contract is projected to cost $129,750.
According to Lear, Fiberight is the best option for Wiscasset. Due to the technology proposed for the facility, recyclables will be separated from waste, and less material will be sent to landfills. “Let’s try to make it beneficial and use it for something,” Lear said.
Tipping fees, which are currently the single largest line item in the transfer station’s budget, will also decrease with the Fiberight contract, Lear said.
While the Fiberight contract may be Wiscasset’s best option for disposing of solid waste, the best way to reduce tipping fees is to reduce the amount of solid waste handled at the transfer station, Lear said. The Wiscasset Transfer Station handles single-stream recycling, which is hauled to a facility in West Bath for processing, and is a source of revenue for the department.
The transfer station also collects food scraps, which are processed into compost at the Lincoln County Recycling Program. The composting program at the transfer station is beginning to pick up, with nearly 8 tons of food scraps kept out of Wiscasset’s municipal waste stream, Lear said.
While Lear is encouraging voters to approve the warrant article authorizing Wiscasset to enter into a contract with Fiberight, “keep recycling and composting,” he said. “It’s the cheapest way out.”