The sorting equipment at the Coastal Resources of Maine plant removes items that it can sell on the recycling market before converting the remaining waste into biofuel and other materials in a 2019 photo. Credit: Courtesy of Fiberight

Ever since the Coastal Resources of Maine waste plant in Hampden shut its doors in May 2020, there have been questions about who would take its reins and when it would reopen. The facility handled household trash from more than 100 towns and cities across central and northern Maine.

The financial backers behind the $90 million plant chose Delta Thermo Energy last December as their preferred buyer from seven potential suitors. The Pennsylvania company has been in negotiations with the plant’s unidentified bondholders ever since.

While Delta Thermo appears to be closing in on the deal, several questions remain about the company’s past work and what technology it plans to employ at the Hampden plant. Below, we have attempted to answer some of those questions with the information we have gathered.

We also want to hear what your questions are. Please ask them through the submission form at the end of the piece. We’ll update this post with answers to those questions as we are able.

What is Delta Thermo Energy?

Delta Thermo Energy is a waste-to-energy company based in Jenkintown, Pennsylvania, that began operations around 2009. The company has never run a plant as large as the one in Hampden, though it did operate a test facility at the Atlantic County Utilities Authority near Atlantic City, New Jersey, from 2012 to 2013. CEO Rob Van Naarden has said that the test facility later moved to the Williamsport, Pennsylvania, area, but the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection has no permits on file for such a test facility, which would require permits for emissions and wastewater discharge.

Van Naarden provided no further details during a public meeting last week, and he hasn’t answered questions from the Bangor Daily News since January.

Delta Thermo has made several efforts to run large-scale waste plants, including in Allentown, Pennsylvania, Paterson, New Jersey and Muncy, Pennsylvania. The Allentown project came closest to completion. The city council approved the project in 2012 before the city nixed it two years later after officials said Delta Thermo had done little to advance the project. Van Naarden said that was not the case, and tied the project’s dissolution to corruption in city hall that landed former Allentown Mayor Ed Pawlowski in federal prison for 15 years.

Delta Thermo has also worked with foreign partners in the past, including in Japan and Germany, though it appears to have exaggerated at least some of its operations in Japan. While Delta Thermo claimed to have developed a waste processing plant in Shari, Japan, the company’s listed partner in that city, Hokuto Kogyo, said Delta Thermo was not involved in its Japanese operations.

Why does it matter who runs the Coastal Resources of Maine plant?

If reopened, the Coastal Resources of Maine plant would handle more than 100,000 tons of household trash a year from the more than 200,000 Mainers living in communities represented by the Municipal Review Committee. The plant owners dictate day-to-day operations, and their actions could decide the future of the still-young Coastal Resources project.

Without processing, a vast amount of waste could end up in Maine landfills. Besides the environmental effects of filling these landfills, capacity is also limited at existing sites across the state.

What is Delta Thermo Energy’s process, and will it be used at Coastal Resources?

Delta Thermo Energy specializes in mixing wastewater sludge with household trash and then burning the mixture to produce electricity, according to its website and patent. An analyst with the Atlantic County Utilities Authority, where Delta Thermo piloted its technology, described the company’s work there as “very successful,” though a waste-to-energy expert told the BDN last month the process could be “prohibitively expensive.”

Van Naarden has said Delta Thermo’s plan is to restart the Coastal Resources plant with its existing technology, developed by the company Fiberight.

Coastal Resources would need to receive new permits to add Delta Thermo’s technology, though Van Naarden has said he would like to bring some of it to Hampden in the future.

However, there’s now some confusion over how Delta Thermo would incorporate its technology there. In a Municipal Review Committee meeting on April 28, Van Naarden said his company’s process does not involve burning trash to create electricity, and that nothing would be burned at the Hampden plant.

Why did the Coastal Resources of Maine plant shut down?

Coastal Resources closed its doors after six months of commercial operation in May 2020 after it struggled to pay its bills and fund a series of performance upgrades. When the plant stopped operating, it owed more than $50 million to a mix of contractors and creditors, including the bondholders that originally provided $52 million for the construction of the facility.

In late July 2020, a judge appointed a receiver representing those owed money to oversee the plant.

What is the Municipal Review Committee?

The Municipal Review Committee is the nonprofit organization representing the more than 110 Maine municipalities that send their waste to the Coastal Resources plant. The committee formed in 1991 when towns and cities joined together to handle waste issues as a collective. For decades, the towns sent their waste to the Penobscot Energy Recovery Co. incinerator in Orrington, which is temporarily handling many of the communities’ waste while Coastal Resources is shut down.

More than 200,000 people live in the Municipal Review Committee’s communities, ranging from Bangor with about 32,000 people to Frenchboro in Hancock County with just 13.

The bondholders who funded the plant’s construction, rather than the Municipal Review Committee, are the group permitted to sell the Coastal Resources plant. Yet, the Municipal Review Committee owns the land on which the Coastal Resources plant sits and handles the contracts that guarantee the plant waste from its member communities.

The Municipal Review Committee is run by nine directors elected by the member communities for three-year terms. The directors are all officials in member towns. Board President Karen Fussell is Brewer’s finance director, for example, and board member Cathy Conlow is Bangor’s city manager. The committee also has an executive director, currently Michael Carroll.