The operating status of the Jonesboro and West Enfield biomass energy plants owned by Stored Solar LLC is uncertain, with three "known" lawsuits against the company, according to Professional Logging Contractors of Maine Executive Director Dana Doran. Two of the lawsuits involve logging contractors and one involves a maintenance company. In addition, company reports filed with the Maine Public Utilities Commission (MPUC) show a significant decline in energy output and biomass purchasing over the second quarter of this year. The company is seeking to have much of its MPUC reporting deemed confidential, and company representatives have consistently declined to comment in response to press inquiries.
Stored Solar has owned the two plants since October 2016, purchasing them from Covanta Energy. The company is one of two firms that have qualified to be recipients of $13.4 million in funding to assist the biomass industry that was approved by the legislature in 2016.
After its January start, the Jonesboro plant was placed offline temporarily in mid‑March "due to a lack of biomass feedstock," stated Stored Solar Vice President William Harrington in a March 27 letter to the MPUC. Stored Solar's letter was in response to a March 22 MPUC letter requesting an update on the company's operations and financial status of the two plants because of an agreement between Stored Solar and Central Maine Power that utilizes state incentives to run the plants.
In order to qualify for the state funding incentives, Stored Solar agreed to terms including: employing in the first year of 42 in‑plant full‑time equivalent jobs, purchasing 500,000 tons of in‑state biomass and spending $2.5 million on capital expenditures. In the second year of the agreement Stored Solar would follow the first year but without the capital expenditure requirement.
As of March 24, the company reported to the MPUC that it had purchased 112,317 tons of biomass, hired 44 employees and paid $500,000 towards engineering and materials for facilities improvements. In a July 28 amended report the company stated that, in the second quarter, full‑time equivalent jobs had dropped from 43.57 to 35.38 and biomass purchases had dropped from 95,180 tons to 35,586 tons. The company had also purchased 24,531 tons for build‑up at the restarting of the plants in 2017. Stored Solar's total biomass purchase through July 28 is 155,299 tons, meaning that, at seven months into the year, it had purchased 31% of the 500,000 tons it is obligated to buy.
Along with supporting the biomass industry in the state, the company had stated its plans to create co‑generation facilities at the plants through an investment partner, Synthesis Venture Fund Partners. If stand‑alone biomass electricity generating plants, such as the two in Washington County, are able to create co‑generation utilization envisioned by Synthesis, they would meet the new requirements of the renewable energy credit marketplace.
However, Doran says, "As far as I know no fuel is being delivered to Jonesboro, and only one [logging] contractor is delivering to West Enfield." He qualifies, "But you would need to confirm with Stored Solar." When Stored Solar was contacted by telephone to comment on the status of the plants and answer other questions, Harrington responded by saying, "I really don't want to comment right now, but thank you for calling."
Doran's organization represents about 150 logging contractors in the state. When Stored Solar started generating power with its two plants from January through March, "there were about six [biomass suppliers] with contracts, but there were probably 20 contractors in total," Doran says. "There's been a major reduction in the amount of deliveries." He adds, "The January through March time frame had major issues with payment. To my knowledge all but one were made whole."
In the most recent period of April to August, Doran notes that there are hundreds of thousands of dollars of payments owed to contractors. Contractors supplying the Jonesboro plant were primarily from Washington and Hancock counties. Those supplying the West Enfield plant were primarily from Penobscot and northern Washington, southern Aroostook and parts of Piscataquis counties.
In the July 28 report to the MPUC, biomass deliveries show a significant decline from the first quarter's average of 31,700 tons and 1,007 loads per month to 11,862 tons and 391 loads per month during the second quarter. The West Enfield plant is shown to be producing about one‑third less in energy output from the first quarter and the Jonesboro plant producing no energy.
In another indication of financial problems, the Bangor Daily News has reported that 2016 real estate taxes on the Jonesboro plant were owed to the Town of Jonesboro.
On July 26, Stored Solar filed with MPUC a motion "seeking protective treatment of certain information related to employees, vendors and planned investments." Stored Solar states in its motion that this information is confidential and could be harmful to the company if it were publicly disclosed.
"I don't know what's on the horizon" for Stored Solar, Doran says. With a decrease of biomass fuel being delivered, the health of the logging and biomass industries are in question. "We need these markets," Doran adds. "It's very unfortunate."