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Loggers Say Biomass Firm Stored Solar Hasn’t Paid Them in Weeks

Brian Swartz
Bangor Daily News
Tree tops and limbs removed during log harvesting will be fed through a chipper and converted into chips for biomass.

Hancock logger George Moon had the first bad feeling in February. Months into supplying Stored Solar, the new operator of wood-to-energy plants in Jonesboro and West Enfield, bills went unpaid.

“We were just giving them a chance to work the bugs out,” Moon said.

A few more payments came through before the money stopped again in late spring, he said.

“I couldn’t tell you when the last time was.”

Moon alleges Stored Solar owes his three-person operation $50,000 for deliveries dating back 150 days.

He joins at least two other logging operations alleging they’re owed payments weeks or months old from Stored Solar, a company in line for a taxpayer subsidy to do just that: pay loggers.

The renewed allegations of nonpayment come as Stored Solar has purchased less wood than expected, as a top manager has left the company and as plans for a massive joint venture on a biorefinery in East Millinocket have apparently stalled.

According a company statement in late July, the company had overdue bills for about 9 percent of its biomass deliveries during the first six months of 2017. But it’s not clear currently how many suppliers are owed or how much.

Moon and Robert Bell, president of Tide Mill Enterprises, don’t know the answer to that question either. But both say they’re still waiting for checks.

Meanwhile, the company in the first half of 2017 had only purchased one-third of the Maine wood it planned to for the entire year, under the subsidy arrangement that could deliver it millions in state subsidies approved by lawmakers and signed into law by Gov. Paul LePage at the end of the 2016 legislative session.

Stored Solar has generated enough power to collect about $1 million in state subsidies but has missed out on about $1.3 million in subsidies intended to make their way to employees of the facilities and, primarily, back into the woods to support loggers hit hard by the decline of Maine’s paper industry.

The company’s director declined to comment on the overdue bills and allegations when reached by telephone Monday. He directed a reporter to speak with “Dan,” but did not provide a last name or contact information. He previously directed a reporter to speak with a “Nick.”

Other company officials were not available for comment, two of them because they no longer work there.

According to his LinkedIn profile, Kevin Crossman, the company’s former chief operating officer, left the company this month. Ken Nydam, a former business manager for Covanta who also worked with Stored Solar, said in a telephone interview that he left months ago.

After the earlier allegations of nonpayment, Stored Solar chalked the problem up to an “invoicing dispute,” and at the end of March said it had settled those debts.

But the latest delays spurred Moon to take action. He said his attorney sent a demand letter to Stored Solar on Aug. 8 and he’s discussed the issue with his trade group, the Professional Logging Contractors of Maine. That group in March raised concern that Stored Solar was not paying some of its members, though it did not identify the individual businesses owed. The group’s executive director, Dana Doran, did respond Monday to a request for comment.

Moon said he has some concern about speaking out.

“I don’t want them to blackball me because I’m sitting here whining, but geez, I got bills to pay,” Moon said.

According to regulatory documents in which Stored Solar outlined the in-state economic benefits from its operations, the company had not paid suppliers for about 9,500 tons of biomass deliveries as of July 28. About 6,500 of that unpaid amount dated back to between January and March.

The company attributed that batch of delayed payments to “winding up pending joint venture matters.” The company wrote it expected to pay for the other 5,000 tons within 60 days.

Even when the company was paying, Moon said, there were problems.

For instance, he said he wasn’t sure what rate Stored Solar would pay him until he received a check for his deliveries. The checks were delivered by hand, a practice he said was unusual based on about 15 years of delivering to the Jonesboro facility.

It left him with some math to figure out how much he was getting paid per ton, as well, despite multiple requests he said he made for settlement sheets describing the transactions.

Moon said that after getting those checks “we’d have to go back to our own paperwork and find the timeframe” in order to determine the rate of pay.

That rate fluctuated, Moon said, based on what the power plant was getting for its power purchases that week. Usually, he said, a buyer would set a base price a week or 10 days in advance, in purchase orders that a supplier could accept or decline.

The situation was not ideal, Moon said, but the Jonesboro plant was one of the closest outlets for tree tops and limbs he had to clear from lots he manages for various landowners, whom he also pays for the trees he harvests.

Moon said he took out a 90-day loan to stay current with those payments, but it’s affected other business decisions, too.

“I’ll normally buy eight winter tires now because you get better pricing in the summer,” Moon said. “Well, I’m not buying those now.”

This story appears through a media sharing agreement with Bangor Daily News.