April 08, 2020

Disaster Area> Washington County; Power squabble upsets residents

MACHIAS — Bangor Hydro-Electric Co. estimated that by Tuesday power was restored to 7,000 of the 10,000 Washington County households that lacked electricity a day earlier. But many residents were angered by the squabbling between Bangor Hydro and owners of the wood-fired Jonesboro plant that prevented the region from receiving power sooner.

The Jonesboro wood-fired generating plant was within a few hours of producing electricity Monday when Bangor Hydro and plant owners clashed over the price that Hydro would pay for the power.

Washington County Sheriff’s Chief Deputy Joseph Tibbetts said he believes the people of the county are being held hostage by the out-of-state owners of the Jonesboro plant whom he described as “terrorists.”

“We’re still in a situation where we could lose lives and I’m tired. My people have been working 18-, 19-, 20-hour days and we’re getting to the point that we can’t go any further,” Tibbetts said.

Machias Police Chief Peter Walsh echoed these comments.

“I guarantee this would never happen in southern Maine,” Walsh said. “They’ve got too much political influence down there and a lot more money.”

Peter Boyce, manager of the Lubec Packing Co. plant, said, “I am really upset about the governor. He was involved with the negotiations and this is an emergency situation and I feel he could have demanded they start that Indeck plant. … Both the companies absolutely snubbed the governor … and he allowed himself to be snubbed.”

Lubec Packing Co. is one of the few remaining sardine packing plants in Maine, and Boyce said the power problems have idled more than 150 workers since Friday. “This isn’t game time. There are people losing their homes, losing all of their belongings,” he said. “There will probably be people who die because of this foolishness, and the governor has just allowed it to go on.”

Boyce said that the governor’s decision to refer the issue to the attorney general was of no immediate help. “What is he going to do, give us a report in a couple of months?”

Both Bangor Hydro and the plant owners — Indeck Energy Services of Buffalo Grove, Ill. and Ridgewood Power Corp. of Ridgewood, N.J. — are blaming each other for the breakdown in negotiations that kept the plant from delivering power.

After the breakdown, Bangor Hydro said it installed a number of portable generators Monday and tapped into a transformer in Deblois to bring power to the region. Hydro spokesman Bill Cohen said Tuesday there were 3,000 households still without power, compared with 10,000 Monday.

But the disagreement on price put the brakes on the attempt to re-fire the Jonesboro plant and appears to have added another day to the suffering of Down Easters.

Bangor Hydro issued a press release Monday announcing that the company was asking the Maine attorney general to investigate “price gouging” by the plant owners. Indeck Vice President Steve Dowdy issued a press release saying Bangor Hydro’s price-gouging charge is “ridiculous and misleading.”

Dowdy said Bangor Hydro ordered the Indeck plant to shut down in December despite Indeck’s request that the plant remain in operation. The company let its 15 employees go and paid the expense of mothballing the plant, Dowdy said.

Last Saturday, in the aftermath of the storm, Dowdy said Bangor Hydro called Indeck to start the plant immediately. Indeck started to hire employees and began the process of firing up the plant without waiting for Bangor Hydro’s agreement on the price.

“All this activity cost Indeck extra expense and time which could have been avoided if Bangor Hydro had not ordered the plant shut down,” Dowdy said. “Indeck was willing to start a cold plant for only 4.1 cents a kilowatt-hour. Who is gouging the public?” Dowdy asked.

Dowdy’s figure of 4.1 cents a kilowatt-hour was Indeck and Ridgewood’s final offer Monday night and was a drop from the 5 cents a kilowatt-hour it began with Monday morning, according to Ridgewood President Robert Swanson.

However, Bangor Hydro Vice President Carroll Lee said the price per kilowatt-hour does not reflect the total cost of Indeck and Ridgewood’s proposal. Although Cohen declined to discuss prices Monday, Lee gave the details of the negotiation in an interview Tuesday.

Lee said he called Jonesboro plant manager Peter Lepage in Bangor at noon Saturday and asked him to begin start-up at the Jonesboro facility. Lee said Lepage supposedly checked with Dowdy before telling Bangor Hydro that Jonesboro would sell power for a basic capacity charge and an additional 2.9 cents per kilowatt-hour. There was to be no additional charge for starting up the plant because that was included in the $6 per kilowatt monthly capacity charge.

Based on those figures, Bangor Hydro would have been paying approximately $300,000 for one month of power from the Jonesboro plant, according to Lee, but that cost shot up to almost $2 million Monday morning.

Lee said Dowdy and Ridgewood Corp. President Swanson offered him a complex arrangement that would have obligated Bangor Hydro to purchase three months of power from the Jonesboro facility. Dowdy and Swanson also demanded a two-month extension of Bangor Hydro’s current one-month contract with Indeck’s West Enfield plant, Lee said.

Lee said Dowdy and Swanson’s asking price for Jonesboro power was a higher initial capacity charge and 5 cents a kilowatt-hour. The owners wanted another $200,000 to start up the Jonesboro plant in addition to extending the West Enfield contract, Lee said.

Diana Graettinger contributed to this report.

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