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Orrington waste-to-energy plant slated for auction as owners struggle to pay bills

Orrington, Maine -- August 8, 2019 -- The Penobscot Energy Recovery Facility in Orrington.
Linda Coan O'Kresik
Bangor Daily News
Orrington, Maine -- August 8, 2019 -- The Penobscot Energy Recovery Facility in Orrington.

A waste incinerator in Orrington that has been struggling to repay its debts could go up for auction next month. The facility has faced a series of operating challenges in recent years, and its owners are now trying to find a buyer.

The Penobscot Energy Recovery Company, or PERC, is a 40-acre facility near the Penobscot River that has usually accepted trash from a group of 44 communities that includes Ellsworth and Deer Isle, as well as from commercial waste haulers, and burned it to generate electricity.

While it used to be one of the dominant trash processors in the region, it’s had a hard time paying its bills since 2019, when it lost the business of many previous member communities to a new waste facility in Hampden. That's also when it lost a favorable contract to sell power back to the grid.

Now, PERC owes money to lenders and is scheduled for a foreclosure auction on July 12. It has idled its boilers and stopped receiving trash from most communities, according to Plant Manager Henry Lang.

Lang says that PERC's owners — which include majority owner USA Energy Group — are trying to find a buyer before the auction. He says that the costs for maintenance, labor and fuel have outpaced the revenues the business brings in from waste disposal and electricity generation, and that it's been hard finding workers.

While PERC used to accept more than 300,000 tons of waste annually, it only took in about 206,000 tons in 2020 and 117,000 in 2021, according to the most recently published state waste data. It employs about 50 people, and local records show that it owed $170,000 in property taxes to the town of Orrington last year.

It’s not the only Bangor-area trash facility that’s struggling. The new Hampden plant that took much of PERC's business back in 2019 has now been shut down for three years. Its members are trying to find a company to restart it and have sent some of their trash back to PERC in the meantime.