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Radio Ad Talks Trash in Fight for Waste Contracts

The Penobscot Energy Recovery Co. in Orrington.

There’s some “trash talk” going on in Penobscot County, centering around a proposed biogas plant in Hampden that plans to convert thousands of tons of municipal waste into a marketable fuel.

Much of that waste would be diverted from a waste stream that has for years found its way to the Penobscot Energy Recovery Company, or PERC, in Orrington. But PERC’S contract with the towns is about to expire, and the the company has launched a campaign warning customers to be wary of the new kid in town.

“For 28 years, the Penobscot Energy Recovery Company, PERC, has helped Maine communities dispose of their trash safely, affordably and with the utmost concern for the environment,” says a radio ad from PERC, beginning by reminding listeners of the decades of experience the company has in handling refuse from Maine communities.

It also warns them to be cautious when PERC’S municipal contracts expire two years from now.

“So when it’s time for your town to decide where to send its waste after 2018, don’t take chances with empty promises and unproven technology — stick with what works, stay with PERC,” says the ad.

That message doesn’t sit well with the head of Fiberight LLC.

“Absolutely we take exception to it, it’s grossly incorrect,” says Fiberight President and CEO Craig Stuart-Paul.

Stuart-Paul says his company’s technology is based on 330 plants operating throughout Europe. And here in Maine, Fiberight is actively signing up many of the communities that are currently under contract with PERC.

Fiberight is frequently represented by a coalition of communities called the Municipal Review Committee, which has recently revised the amount of waste it needs for a viable operation down from 150,000 tons a year to 110,000 tons. It currently has contracts for the delivery of nearly 95,000 tons of trash, and the MRC’S Jesse Pottle cites a self-imposed deadline to reach that amount.

“June 30 is the drop-dead date, but I do need to add the caveat that if a town has a town meeting scheduled for after June, they could still be considered to join this,” she says.

PERC officials have pointed to the changing deadlines and tonnage estimates as evidence that residents should be skeptical of the proposed project and its technology. But Stuart-Paul questions PERC’s motives.

“Methinks the lady doth protest too much,” he says. “The reason that all of this negative campaigning is going on is that they don’t want us to come in, we’re competition. Entrenched economic interests really prefer not to have new competing options for their waste which are A: cheaper tip fees for the customer, and B: recycles more.”

PERC spokesman Ted O’Meara says the Orrington plant will continue to operate successfully whether or not Fiberight goes forward. And he again casts doubt on the project.

“This whole thing is a moving target, there isn’t another plant like it anywhere in the world and they’re making it up as they go along,” O’Meara says. “You know, you contrast that with PERC which has been here for 20 years, it operates well. So it really comes down to something that’s known, that’s here, that’s paid for versus something that doesn’t exist anywhere else and whose plans keep changing.”

Earlier this week, the Maine Department of Environmental Protection issued draft licenses for Fiberight’s proposed Hampden facility. The local planning board is expected to vote on the company’s application that has already been endorsed by the town council.