About 20 Jonesboro residents met with about a half dozen representatives of Stored Solar LLC at a public meeting November 20 to discuss the future of the former Covanta biomass energy plant, which was idled last March. In 2016 Stored Solar purchased the Covanta plants in both Jonesboro and West Enfield and hopes to sell not only the electricity generated through burning wood but also waste products such as ash, excess heat and carbon dioxide produced from burning.
"We can't make money competing with natural gas in a stand‑alone plant," said Bill Harrington, U.S. director of the Paris‑based Capergy, parent company of Stored Solar. Harrington and Stored Solar owner Fahim Samaha said they hope to attract other businesses, or "cohosts," to locate on the approximately 140‑acre Jonesboro property. These cohosts, such as a shrimp farm set to locate at the West Enfield plant, would purchase byproducts such as heat and also benefit from having a significantly less expensive source of electricity.
Samaha said the company is looking for ways to market the other byproducts. One idea would be to take the carbon dioxide, process it and sell it to makers of soda and beer. "So every time you have a beer, you think of us," he said, eliciting laughs from the audience.
Harrington said the company has encountered considerable obstacles since it began working on the project about 15 months ago. The West Enfield plant is doing much better than the Jonesboro plant because it has access to interstate highways, he said. In contrast, Jonesboro "is far from everything, far from everywhere." This makes it more difficult to recruit cohosts. "I'm constantly marketing Maine even though I'm not from Maine." he said.
When questioned by Bob Mercer of Machiasport, Samaha said although Jonesboro is rural, its location has other advantages. For example, it's located close to the sea, only about an hour from Bar Harbor, where 450,000 tourists annually visit via cruise ships. He hopes to lure some of those tourists to Jonesboro.
"We want to promote something which is different," he said, suggesting people may be interested in coming to see the plant and what the firm dubs its "bio‑hub ecosystem" that creates renewable resources. "I'm not saying this will happen," Samaha said. "I'm saying this is what we're trying to do."
The company aims to be innovative, doing things that have never before been tried, said Harrington. "Had we not come in at the time we did, these two plants would have been leveled," he said.
Aaron Bell of Tide Mill Farm in Edmunds said the idea of cheaper power appeals to him. Although he was not committing, he said he could see moving some of his farm's operations to the Jonesboro site in order to realize a significant savings in electricity and heating costs.
Mercer said Stored Solar's plans sound good but he wanted to know how likely it is that these plans will materialize. Harrington said the firm has invested a lot of money but can't make money until cohorts get involved. Samaha said unfavorable media reports have further hampered the company's efforts to recruit cohosts. He asked the media present to assist in getting the word out accurately.
Jonesboro resident Nancy Oden said the media need something substantial to report. "You get something going and it's a good thing, and we'll be happy to tell people about it," she said.
Mercer asked what residents can expect to see and when. Harrington said the company will fire up the Jonesboro plant again in a couple of weeks and generate power throughout the winter with a goal of operating year round. During their presentation, Stored Solar representatives said their firm will be adding to its staff of about 60 people.