Chris Backman, Orrington town manager, stands near the sign for a new business park where the former Holtra Chem plant was along route 15 in Orrington in September 2022. Credit: Linda Coan O'Kresik / BDN

The announcement earlier this week that the waste-to-energy plant would go on the auction block has Orrington officials concerned about the possible loss of tax revenue and how a sale would impact the development of its nearby business park.

The Penobscot Energy Recovery Company has cut back operations as it prepares to go on the auction block July 12. In the meantime, most trash bound for the waste-to-energy plant will go to the Juniper Ridge Landfill while the plant scales back operations prior to a July 12 auction.

The plant’s bypass plan requires that when the Penobscot Energy Recovery Co. is unable to take in trash, it will be taken to the Old Town landfill, said David Madore, the spokesperson for the Maine Department of Environmental Protection, which regulates the industry.

The plant is a major industry and taxpayer in Orrington, according to Town Manager Chris Backman. He said Friday that he’s hopeful a buyer will be found to continue operating the facility rather than it be sold for scrap as former paper mills have been.

“The PERC plant is a valuable asset and not just to the town,” he said Friday. “It’s too valuable an asset to be sold for pennies on the dollar for scrap or the equipment.”

Licenses to accept trash and sell energy to the grid would remain in place when it is sold. They are as valuable as the plant itself, Backman said.

Maine Public reported earlier this week that the plant has had difficulty paying its bills since 2019, when a contract to sell power to the electric grid was not renewed and 115 municipalities signed agreements to send waste to the Hampden trash facility that closed in 2020.

The plant, located on 44 acres off River Road, also known as Route 15, is assessed by the town at about $13 million for tax purposes. It owes more than $370,000 in taxes to Orrington for 2021 and 2022. PERC has not sought an abatement for either year, Backman said.

A separate concern is the development of the Eagle Point Business Park, located on land formerly owned by a chemical manufacturing plant along Route 15, located near PERC. The town recently began building an entrance road into the 55 acres slated for development, Backman said.

The town’s pitch to businesses interested in the park includes the town’s low tax rate for the region, the property’s railroad access and proximity to I-95, and the potential for power and steam from the adjacent PERC incinerator.

Trash from Orrington continues to go to the plant because the town has a host community agreement that waives its tipping fees, Backman said.

If the plant were to cease operations entirely and not restart after a sale, Orrington would face two problems — the loss of tax revenue and the payment of tipping fees to the Hampden waste facility once it resumes operations or to the state-owned Old Town landfill.

That landfill, which is being expanded this year, accepted 933,649 tons of waste last year. That equated to roughly four years of remaining capacity, Madore said.

Henry Lang, the Orrington plant’s manager, did not immediately return a phone call Friday requesting information about at what capacity the plant is operating or how many or its 50 or so employees are still working.

Backman said that the plant is operating with a skeleton crew. It is not the first time the Penobscot Energy Recovery Co. has scaled back operations. It shut down for most of April in 2021 for maintenance.

Keenan Auction Co. Inc. of Portland will handle the sale. A tour of the plant will take place for potential buyers from 9 a.m. to noon on June 20.