ROCKLAND — On Aug. 13, the Municipal Review Committee (MRC) held an information meeting for the public on its plan for municipal solid waste processing after current power purchase agreements between Emera Maine, formerly Bangor-Hydro Electric Co., and the PERC facility in Orrington expire in 2018.
The MRC represents 187 towns across Maine that send waste to PERC. It is a regional organization that deals with municipal waste disposal issues. The organization was formed to help negotiate a restructuring when PERC experienced financial difficulties in the late 1980s and early 1990s. MRC is now a limited 23 percent partner in PERC and holds a note from Emera Maine.
MRC’s attorney Dan McKay and Executive Director Greg Lounder laid out the reasons the MRC thinks PERC will not be a viable option after 2018.
The biggest issue is the cost of electricity produced by PERC’s waste-burning system.
Under the power purchase agreements between Emera Maine and PERC, Emera Maine is buying electricity for a little under $170 per megawatt hour (MWh). According to the MRC, market rates are about $50-$60 per MWh.
If this gap continues into 2018, when the power purchase agreements expire, PERC will have to start selling electricity at the lower market price.
The MRC Board maintains that PERC will not be able to sustain that loss of revenue, particularly since the facility already has to pay to import out-of-state trash to make up the difference between the tonnage the plant needs and the amount of waste municipalities in Maine provide. MRC says that the only place PERC could make up the loss in revenue would be through raising tipping fees over $100 dollars.
At the same time that the power purchase agreements expire, town and city contracts with PERC expire. So does PERC’s contract with the landfill where it disposes of ash and residual waste.
Since they began planning for the contract expirations in 2011, the MRC reached out to the managing partner company that controls PERC, but, Louder said, the private partners expressed no interest in retrofitting the facility to better recycle and reuse waste, which the MRC thinks is necessary since the technology at PERC is outdated.
Louder said that PERC is too small to maintain itself as a refuse derived fuel waste-burning plant in the current market, and too large for MRC towns to meet its supply needs.
Another waste-to-energy plant, MERC in Biddeford, closed in 2012.
While much of the introduction was spent identifying the reasons the MRC believes PERC is not the answer after 2018, both McKay and Lounder acknowledged that a final alternative plan is still down the road.
However, the MRC has already filed a preliminary application for a Determination of Public Benefit with the DEP for a new landfill site, either in Argyle or Greenbush.
If the public benefit determination is positive, the MRC can move on to applying for a landfill license.
McKay explained that the process for trying to get a landfill has to start now because of how long it takes to go through all the steps.
Denis St. Peter, a technical consultant for the MRC, went over the list of municipal, state, and commercial landfills in Maine that could take trash from MRC communities after the PERC agreement expires. Most of these facilities are at capacity and would need to expand to take new waste streams.
St. Peter and Lounder emphasized that, if the MRC opens a publicly owned landfill, the communities would have control. They would be able to site it next to a new processing facility and control fees, environmental impact and transport.
MRC in negotiations with Fiberight
While there are no definite, concrete plans for solid waste processing after 2018, the MRC is currently in negotiation with Fiberight, a company that has developed technology to convert organic waste into biofuels and to sort out recyclables missed by municipal programs.
Right now Fiberight has a demonstration facility in Virginia and is building its first commercial plant in Iowa.
MRC put out a public call for proposals from across the country and received 15 responses, which they “whittled down” to a handful, according to Lounder. The MRC Board voted to “invest most of our time and energy to negotiate with Fiberight,” in January.
Lounder said that one of the reasons he feels confident about Fiberight is that the company was willing to allow all of their research and data to be peer-reviewed by biofuel researchers from the University of Maine.
Fiberight has projected tipping fees under $70 for their first years of operation.
“To be frank they have expressed high confidence in that number, we need to know a little more before we have high confidence in that number,” Lounder said.
Lounder said that in the worst-case scenario, tipping fees would rise sharply in 2018, particularly if PERC has to close, as the MRC believes it will.
After questions from the public, Lounder acknowledged that there are few hard and fast numbers on projected costs if the MRC decides to build a new Fiberight facility and connected landfill, or on transportation, because negotiations are still ongoing and no final decisions have been made.
He added that the MRC also hopes to potentially have satellite processing stations so that municipalities distant from the central facility wouldn’t have to ship their solid waste as far.
Dan Walker, a governmental affairs attorney for MRC, believes that the proposed landfill has a good chance of getting approved if communities express their support.
Lounder added that they’re not looking for any commitments from MRC members yet, they just want to know what kind of support there is for developing a plan and securing a landfill site.
When asked if the MRC is open to new members, McKay responded, “We didn’t want to see any PERC user just left stranded so the door is open.”
Lounder added that the reality is they expect some members will leave and some new ones will join.
For more information on the MRC, click here.
For more information on the current landfill application process, click here.