Fool me twice?

To the Editor:

Last week, the Islander published an editorial about Penobscot Energy Recovery Center (PERC) and Fiberight, the proposed recycling and biogas facility in Hampden.

A whole new set of economics are coming into play for PERC and the municipalities that pay tipping fees for trash disposal. In early 2018, municipalities’ trash disposal contracts with PERC end, and PERC’s Emera Maine electricity subsidies expire.

PERC has sent municipalities new contracts with projected tipping fees that are unrealistic. I know this because I was there in 1989 as a member of the municipal negotiating team that had to accept much higher tipping fees, save PERC from ruin and keep the project alive.

In 1988, towns were sending their trash to the newly built PERC plant and paying the contracted tipping fee. It was a better than a landfill.

Then municipal officials were told by PERC that they were unable to continue operating at the contracted tipping fee; their projections were wrong. Unless municipalities paid more, the operation would go bankrupt.

It was then that municipalities really were put in a hard place.

Eventually, the Municipal Review Committee (MRC) was born. In extended negotiations, an agreement was worked out. In return for higher tipping fees, the towns would receive preferential rates, a share of the outside revenues and representation in management of the plant.

Charter municipalities shared in revenues when times were good, outside waste was burned and profits made. This fund has been used to stabilize tipping fees.

Now the PERC owners have projected a new tipping fee with only a modest increase, even though recycling has reduced waste considerably and revenues from sales of electricity will be a fraction of what they once enjoyed.

Fool me once PERC, shame on you. Fool me twice PERC, shame on me.

I do not understand why any municipality would trust PERC again.

Fortunately, we have the MRC, which has put together a long-term, environmentally-sound and affordable plan for municipalities that includes a different approach to dealing with trash. Towns can keep or expand their recycling programs. They’ll send their trash to Fiberight where additional recyclables will be removed and organic content turned into biogas. If anything fails, we have contingency plans for back-up.

Processing the compostable component of food waste, paper and other organics through anaerobic digestion and turning it into biogas is newer science. But it has been done before. There may be hiccups in the starting process, but contingency plans have been made. PERC also had startup problems.

What is perhaps the most exciting thing about Fiberight is that organics won’t be sent to a landfill.

As a participant in the original negotiations with PERC and an observer for more than two decades, the MRC’s plan, which includes Fiberight, is the answer that I would recommend.

I just do not trust the projections that PERC has made any more than I did the last time. I do not wish towns to be fooled again.

Dick Vander Zanden


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