OAKLAND — A planned facility that will convert rubbish to natural gas gained more support Wednesday, when the Town Council voted unanimously to authorize the town manager to sign a 15-year agreement to send Oakland’s trash to the gas plant in Hampden starting in 2018.

The proposed plant is a joint project of Maryland-based company Fiberight and the Municipal Review Committee, a nonprofit that represents more than 180 Maine communities that now deliver municipal waste to an power-generating incinerator in Orrington.

Oakland is the latest community to sign on to the proposal. Dozens of towns and cities, including large waste producers such as Bangor, Brewer and Bar Harbor, have agreed to send waste to the Hampden plant.

In order for the proposal to work, the MRC and Fiberight have to get a total commitment of 150,000 tons of waste annually from communities in central and eastern Maine. To date, 40 communities, including Oakland, have committed 62,000 tons, according to Greg Lounder, the MRC executive director. There is a May deadline for communities to sign on to the proposal.

So far, only one community, Winthrop, has emailed him to say it does not intend to go with the Fiberight plan, but he has received no official confirmation, Lounder said. Fairfield, another MRC member, also has said it will not sign on to the new agreement.

In a presentation to councilors, Tracy Frost, a member of a committee appointed to look at options for future solid waste disposal, said the Fiberight proposal was the most economical option and the best for taxpayers and the environment.

According to the terms of a 15-year contract to send waste to the Hampden gas plant, Oakland would pay a $67 per ton tipping fee to the plant in a fixed rate for the first three years of the contract, and a transportation fee of $8 to $10 per ton. The town may receive rebates based on revenue generated by the plant, Lounder said. Last year, the town produced roughly 2,200 tons of rubbish.

That disposal cost was the cheapest of the four options considered by the committee, including remaining with Penobscot Energy Recovery Company — PERC — in Orrington, shipping to ecomaine in the Portland area, or delivering to the Crossroads Landfill in Norridgewock owned by solid waste giant Waste Management.

Oakland sends its waste to PERC through Waterville and is not a full member of the MRC, but it will be when it signs the proposed agreement.

The landfill option was the least attractive, while ecomaine has capacity issues and PERC is using outdated technology and might not be economically viable in the future, Frost said.

The Fiberight proposal, on the other hand, offers the town the best option costwise, has built-in safeguards in case the gas plant proposal doesn’t work and offers Oakland a long-term solution for solid waste disposal, Frost added. The committee voted unanimously to recommend the Fiberight option, he added.

The decision to change where Oakland waste is being sent was motivated by the MRC’s decision that PERC no longer will be economically viable after 2018. That’s when PERC’s 30-year agreement to sell power to Emera Maine at above-market rates expires, along with contracts with communities to deliver trash to the incinerator.

Although PERC says it will be able to remain economically viable after its agreement with Emera runs out, Lounder told councilors Wednesday that the association decided to look at other options in 2011 after deciding PERC would not be feasible.

Instead, MRC awarded Fiberight a proposal to build a state-of-the-art facility that will convert waste to bio-methane. The process is used widely in Europe but is unique in the U.S., aside from a small test plant Fiberight owns in Virginia.

Some people have reservations about signing on to the plant because of the new technology, but Town Manager Gary Bowman said Oakland should embrace the opportunity.

“We actually have a chance here to have some new technology come into the state of Maine,” Bowman said.

 


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