In Searsport, cargo ship Sider London unloads bales of solid waste from Northern Ireland. The material will be used as back-up fuel at Penobscot Energy Recovery Company in Orrington. (Photo: Ethan Andrews)
In Searsport, cargo ship Sider London unloads bales of solid waste from Northern Ireland. The material will be used as back-up fuel at Penobscot Energy Recovery Company in Orrington. (Photo: Ethan Andrews)
After a trial run in 2019, Penobscot Energy Recovery Company is importing about 11,000 tons of solid waste from Northern Ireland to power its Orrington waste-to-electricity plant.

Plant Manager Henry Lang said the shipment, from ReGen WTE, is expected to be about 85% plastics, with the rest composed of cotton and linen. It will not contain organic waste, he said, which means it can be stored until it is needed. Last spring, he said, the plant ran out of fuel twice. The waste from ReGen will have undergone some treatment and been chopped into pieces in preparation to be burned at PERC. Lang said this makes for a more flexible fuel, but it also means PERC will get a smaller tipping fee from ReGen than the $77.88 now charged to municipalities — Lang said a final price has not been set.

The PERC waste-to-electricity incinerator was built in 1988 for municipal trash in Northern, Eastern and Central Maine. In its best year it ran at 92-93% percent of capacity, Lang said, but this year, after losing many towns to Coastal Resources of Maine in Hampden and seeing the expiration of a lucrative contract with Emera that paid above market rate, volume is down to 33-34% of capacity.

The 2019 shipments from ReGen were on a smaller scale, with the material arriving in Portland in shipping containers.

The current shipment, intended to work out the logistics of large-scale, bulk transportation, arrived in Searsport on November 28. The solid waste was baled and wrapped in plastic. Lang anticipates it will take 370 truck runs to get the bales to Orrington. “This is a trial,” he said. “An experiment. I’m sure people will worry about the traffic increase.”

Lang said he should know within 30 days if the arrangement is working. Ultimately, he said, PERC’s majority-share owner USA Energy Group in Minnesota will make the final decision.